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Preview: Carol Peters

Days: 2004-2012

Carol Peters

Updated: 2018-03-10T20:18:59.007-03:00


Diane Wakoski


[from Diane Wakoski's Toward a New Poetry, Michigan, 1980] what I would like to do is be as real in my writing as I am in life, and I’m a fairly real character in life. I would like to come off the page, and be alive and singing and telling the truth, and telling the history, and at the same time making poetry out of it. I think of that as being what twentieth-century free verse is all about. . . .I think that poetry is an act of problem solving, which means that if there are no problems solved there is no poetry to be written. . . .The purpose of the poem is to complete an act that can’t be completed in real life. . . .what real poetry was all about was creating a personal mythology rather than simply participating in the mythology of your culture. . . .that’s of course our great quest: how to maintain the passion in its purest and its most violent — and I think I use that word advisedly — violent form. But have it in fact contained as an artifice. I don’t want the snakes in my head to turn you to stone. I do not want the heat of my anger to melt you into a puddle [laughter]. And yet I don’t think that art can exist unless there is that power to turn you to stone or to melt you to your gaseous elements. . . .here’s a little discrepancy in my work because male and female sexuality are terribly important to me. If you’re going to ask me questions of how do I resolve them, maybe that is the problem solving that I am involved with because in some way I’ve always felt that it’s my destiny to be the spirit. And yet what I chafe about most in life is being treated as a spiritual person rather than a sex object [laughter] and woman by the man that I love. But, and maybe that’s what my poetry is really about, is, is, is this life journey between the body and the spirit. There’s no easy answer to it. I don’t think you become spirit by denying the flesh, and living in hair shirts. And yet in some way you do become spirit by simply not acknowledging the flesh. But again because we are body, that sounds like denial. I don’t think denial is the answer. Because what denial becomes in the physical son cutting off the head of the father, or whatever physical act that happens. So, so . . . these are problems that fascinate me, and perhaps what a lot of my poems are about. How do you solve these problems? . . .“Vision” is what is most private, intimate, eccentric, unusual, unique, visionary about the person. By definition it would have to be that part of you which is somewhat repressed or put down because it doesn’t fit in with the forms. But it may be not be forbidden . . . it may not just be repressed or put down because of convention. It may be in fact the part of you that you have to create that is completely unique. In other words, the ability to create something unique about yourself. And you can still be quite an acceptable human being and a good member of society and a nice friend and a good lover and any number of other things. But you probably can’t be a poet if you can’t create yourself as unique in some way.[...]

Lynda Hull


[from Lynda Hull's The Collected Poems, Graywolf, 2006]Hollywood JazzWho says it’s cool says wrong.    For it rises from the city’s        sweltering geometry of rooms,fire escapes, and flares from the heels    of corner boys on Occidental        posing with small-time criminalintent — all pneumatic grace. This    is the music that plays at the moment        in every late-night noirflickwhen the woman finds herself alone, perfectly    alone in a hotel room before a man        whose face is so shadowed as to beinvisible, one more bedroom arsonist    seeing nothing remotely        cool: a woman in a cageof half-light, Venetian blinds.    This is where jazz blooms, in the hook        and snag of her zipper opening toan enfilade of trumpets. Her dress    falls in a dizzy indigo riff.        I know her vices are minor: sex,forgetfulness, the desire to be someone,    anyone else. On the landing, the man        pauses before descendingone more flight. Checks his belt. Adjusts    the snap brim over his face. She smoothes        her platinum hair and smokes a Luckyto kill his cologne. And standing there    by the window in her slip, midnight blue,        the stockings she did not take off,she is candescent, her desolation    a music so voluptuous I want        to linger with her. And if I do notturn away from modesty or shame,    I’m in this for keeps, flying with her        into fear’s random pivot where each articleglistens like evidence: the tube of lipstick,    her discarded earrings. When she closes        her eyes, she hears the streetcar’snocturne up Jackson, a humpbacked sedan    rounding the corner from now        to that lavish void of tomorrow,a sequence of rooms: steam heat, modern,    2 bucks. Now listen. Marimbas.        His cologne persists, a redolenceof fire alarms, and Darling,    there are no innocents here, only        dupes, voyeurs. On the stairshe flicks dust from his alligator    shoes. I stoop to straighten        the seams of my stockings, andwhen I meet him in the shadows    of the stairwell, clarinets whisper        Here, take my arm. Walk with me.Lynda Hull[...]

Aracelis Girmay


[from Aracelis Girmay's Kingdom Animalia, BOA, 2011] & When We WokeIt rained all night. It did not rain.I strapped my life to a buoy — & sent it out.& was hoping for a city whose citizens singfrom their windows or rooftops,about the beauty of their children& their children’s eyes, & the color of the fieldswhen it is dusk. & was hoping for a cityas free as the rain, whose people roamwherever they want, free as any real, free thing is free.Joyful. Green. & was hopingfor a city of 100 old women whose bonesare thick & big in their worker handsbeautiful as old doors. & when we woke,dear reader, we’d landed in a city of 100 old womentelling their daughters things. & when we turnedto walk away, because we did not think we were citizensof this strange & holy place, you & I, the hundred oldwomen said, No, No! You are one of us! We are yourmothers! You! You! Too! Come & listen to our secrets.We are telling every person with a face!& they stood us in a line facing the sea,(because that is the direction we came from)& behind us there was another line of women& another, & we sang songs. & we filled the songswith our mothers’ names. & we filled the songswith trees for our mothers to stand under,& good water for our mothers to drink. & we filledthe songs with beds for our mothers to lay down in& rest. We filled the songs with rest. & good foodfor our mothers to eat. We made them a placein our singing, & we faced the sea.We are still making them a placein our singing. Do you understand?We make them a place where they can walk freely,untouched by knives or the police who patrolthe borders of countries like little & fake hatred-godswho patrol the land though the land says, I go on& on, so far, you lose your eye on me.We make our mothers a place in our singing & our placedoes not have a flag or, even, one language.Do you understand? We sing like this for daysuntil our throats are torn with singing. Do you understand?We must build houses for our mothers in our poems. I am not sure,but think. This is my wisest song.Aracelis Girmay[...]

Cate Marvin


[from Cate Marvin's Fragment of the Head of a Queen, Sarabande, 2007]

Landscape with Hungry Girls

There’s blood here. The skyline teethes the clouds
raw and rain’s course streams a million umbilical
cords down windows and walls. Everything gnaws,
and the pink polish on their girl-nails chips, flakes
off as they continue to dig through towering heaps
of refuse. It’s a story, as usual. As usual, a phone
and dead silence. Or the phone: a lobster to the ear.
Girls resigned to being girls. The softer faces they
find in the mirrors. The limp shake, a hand placed,
a flower wilting moist on the man’s palm. Or hard
handshakes deemed “aggressive”: snakes. O, girls.
All of them carefully watching carefully the faces
of their sleeping men, even when their own faces
are more beautiful in their watching, and if only they’d
watch their own faces beneath the revolving lights
sliding between the blinds: they are blinded from
watching their men sleep so dumbly. The headaches,
the insistent grip of a gnawing stomach, eating itself.
Thinking hunger is strength, how hurt they are, girls
picking at food on their plates. I like a girl who eats.
Careful, what you say you want. The moon is distant,
yet cousin to her face: our genders worse than alien.
Bleeding is something everyone does. You don’t call.
Girls snack on skyscrapers, girls gut their teddy bears,
and girls saw their own faces off. What is it to lack
compassion? When you walk through a zoo, do you
not think the animals it houses could have been you?
Who would you be, how hungry, if you were a girl
feeding only on the meek sleep of male countenance?
Would you stand vigil, would you starve as they do?

Cate Marvin

Marianne Moore


[from Marianne Moore's The Poems of Marianne Moore, ed. Grace Schulman, Viking, 2003]

A Grave

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have
      to it yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey foot
      at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have work that look —
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer
      investigate them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating
      a grave,
and row quickly away — the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no
      such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx — beautiful
      under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed;
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting catcalls as
      heretofore —
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of cliffs, in motion beneath
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which
      dropped things are bound to sink —
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor

Ann Townsend


[from Ann Townsend's Dime Store Erotics, Silver Fish Review, 1998]TrimmingsRestless, pulled outside by fogand fitful rain, she carries scissorsand basket to trim the last wild things.She crouches, wind-shaded,before parsley, tarragon, thyme:herbs weep into her hands,spiders scatter across pine needles.Half-dark, wholly cold,the evening of first frostfalls down as rain, cool mouthagainst her unprotected neck.Across the lake her lover waitsin a room warm with smoke,jukebox's muted melody,deep brown bottles rangedacross the bar. Once she leanedinto his mouth, whiskey sweetbetween them. The tiny napkinsbeneath their drinks grew wetwith condensation. Thentheir fingers touched,an accidental convergence of the stars.She shakes loose a bunch of sage.It swings like a heavy skirtin her hands, one caterpillardropping free. In the skythe constellations fuzz and fade.After the EndBecause I left him there so you could see        his body, broken by the fall, the hawk'ssmall relatives hopped from higher branches        and called a kind of glee that he was dead.               By afternoon, the ground around him dustedwith feathers and gravel kicked up, he looked        like a bundle of rags tossedfrom a car and tumbled there, but still        graceful, neck flung back in the moss and dirt,               and the yellow claws curled to question marks.Then the trees were quiet, the other voices        gone. When a car turned into the driveway,I knew it wasn't you. They sat a while,        four men, the same dark suits, carefully               tended hair. Missionaries: I could tellfrom the window where I stood beyond        their line of sight. All their doors openedas if by a common feeling, something        unseen and insistent in the air.               They did not see the hawk lying there, deadfrom its long fall, or age, or driven down        by the crows that nest in the pines above.They did not see me. I stepped back, behind        the curtain, and wished you home, who could see               these things and know what is beloved, what is dead.Mid-February, White LightCountry music and a black dog barkingon a chain, and the voices of grown childrencomplaining — Dad, when are we going to burnthis pile? — cast over from next dooron the first nearly warm afternoon.Everyone has come out to see the sun.Slow bees cluster at the porch stepand the cat has wakened in a pool of light.So when the chainsaw coughs into gear,to clear dead wood away from the gas line,it's like some strange natural description —the ground frozen in its dream of Januarycreaking beneath our feet,the impetus of metal cutting into wood,the urge to flight when the beehazards its way, wind-driven or scent-impelled,into my hair — to touch, to continue.Even our unmade bed, framed by the peelingslats of the bedroom window,looks not like a tranquil reminderbut disturbed, shaken from a measured stillnessof white sheets, pillows, red quiltcast on the floor, a reduction from action to disorder.Or the gift of a warm wind that feels wet.Ann Townsend[...]

Noelle Kocot


[from Noelle Kocot's Sunny Wednesday, Wave, 2009] The Poem of Force after Simone Weil's Essay on The Iliad

How often have I lain beneath a roof of trees and sestinas,
Sestinas and trees, the chasmus of my timid hopes decked
Out in the styles of the day,
Losing myself in novels of corporeal sunshine and a home
Where a samovar is always gurgling on the stove, and men of frivolous
      or serious wives
Tie self-strung misery around their necks. And knowledge

Is a shining lamp that lights the hieroglyphs of love and suffering, and
      no knowledge
Is enough to put it out. I used to dream of a sestina
Whose very presence would ignite the longing of an ancient wife
Who'd swim the matrices of grace into the waves that swept the deck
Of a ship leaving its home
Of drowsy cows and frogs waiting by the river as the day

Blinked over never-ending fields. But today
I feel in almost perfect balance with the world, and any knowledge
That I had or have is but a lying down in the glass casket of my
      thoughts, the long small home
I can barely even find were it not for this sestina
Crashing like painted rain against my eyes decked
With brazen orchid light. And were I not a wife

 And mother to these thoughts, I'd take my wifely
Ringless hand and draw the curtains on the days
Of an atavistic reaching out and clear the deck
For something more untoward than the acknowledgment
That we are riveted between laughter and the abyss, like characters
      in a sestina
With all the lines crossed out. I find my home

When I travel the near and distant byways, I find my home
With the wives
Of absent heroes put to sleep in the sleep of bronze, and in sestinas
That haven't borne witness to a single day
Of war, arrows flying on both sides but none to pierce the knowledge
That we ourselves are a deck

 Of marked cards that decorate
The history of our homeless
Tribe. To know
This is to understand Hector's grief for the long-robed wives
As he stood outside Troy's walls in the rising of the day
Waiting for his death, and trembling, his soul mourning its fate of
      being trapped inside a thing — to understand this is to return to an
      age of epics, not sestinas.

For now I have only the bare knowledge of all wives
Who've ever decked their homes
With the talismans of the day, and my talismans are sestinas.

Noelle Kocot

Javier Marías


[from Javier Marías's A Heart So White, tr. Margaret Jull Costa, New Directions, 1992]Real togetherness in married couples and indeed in any couple comes from words, not just the words that are spoken — spoken involuntarily — but the words one doesn't keep to oneself — at least not without the intervention of the will. It isn't so much that there are no secrets between two people who share a pillow because that's what they decide — what is serious enough to constitute a secret and what is not, if it is not told? — rather it's impossible not to tell, to relate, to comment, to enunciate, as if that were the primordial activity of all couples, at least those who have become couples recently and are still not too lazy to speak to one another. It isn't just that with your head resting on a pillow you tend to remember the past and even your childhood, and that remote and quite insignificant things surface in your memory, come to your tongue, and that all take on a certain value and seem worthy of being recalled out loud; nor that we're disposed to recount our whole life to the person resting their head on our pillow, as if we needed them to be able to see us from the very beginning — especially from the beginning, that is, from childhood — and to witness, through our telling, all those years before they knew us and during which time, we now believe, they were waiting for us. Neither is it simply a desire to compare, to find parallels or coincidences, the desire to know where each of you was in all the different eras of your two existences and to fantasize about the unlikely possibility of having met each other before; lovers always feel that their meeting took place too late, as if the amount of time occupied by their passion was never enough or, in retrospect, never long enough (the present is untrustworthy), or perhaps they can't bear the fact that once there was no passion between them, not even a hint of it, while the two of them were in the world, swept along by its most turbulent currents, and yet with their backs turned to each other, without even knowing one another, perhaps not even wanting to. Nor is it that some kind of interrogatory system is established on a daily basis which, out of weariness or routine, neither partner can escape, and so everyone ends up answering the questions. It's rather that being with someone consists in large measure in thinking out loud, that is, in thinking everything twice rather than once, once with your thoughts and again when you speak, marriage is a narrative institution. Or perhaps it's just that they spend so much time together (however little time that is amongst modern couples, it still amounts to a lot of time) that the two partners (but in particular the man, who feels guilty if he remains silent) have to make use of whatever they think and whatever occurs to them or happens to them in order to amuse the other person; thus, in the end, there's not a single tiny corner of all the events and thoughts in an individual's life that remains untransmitted, or rather translated matrimonially. The events and thoughts of the others are transmitted too, those they've confided to us in private, that's where the expression "pillow talk" comes from, there are no secrets between people who share a bed, the bed is like a confessional. For the sake of love or its essence — telling, informing, announcing, commenting, opining, distracting, listening and laughing, and vainly making plans — one betrays everyone else, friends, parents, brothers and sisters, blood relations and non-blood relations, former lovers and beliefs, former mistresses, your own past and childhood, your own language when you stop speaking it and doubtless your country, everything that anyone holds to be secret or perhaps merely belongs to the past. In order to flatter the person you love you denigrate everything else i[...]

Steve Shavel


[from Steve Shavel's How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold, Verse Press, 2003]How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold [excerpt]2Every word occludes another, just asevery perspective cuts across some larger circuitry — logjamsof purposiveness, the whole farragoof incidence, everything a somethingtaken out of context, the stunned minnowin the heron's cropmouthing the vowels of horror,or the wayyou wake up sometimes with aloded word on the tonguethe odd fragmentof dream cipher (today nokidding it was tatterdemalion).But of the mechanism, spring-wound, that drives these recirculatingwaters, disgorged on the hill towns inlast night's storm or unlocked from the rockface its lastblue icicle integument, trundlingpast stubborn milltowns andformer milltowns, their trestlescantilevers andcrumbling abutments,their sullen smokestacks,rosettes of identical split-level around the cul-de-sac,sluiced through the archaic reactorwhose lab-coated acolytesscrutinize the apparatus, tendingthe deviceits dread core their queenhived and bloated with light,turning bend after bendof perturbation to get herewhere the currents slow to spread their snaresand drop their sediment —we are all of us oblivious,taken in entirely by the parade of forms, the events and detritusthat drift across the meniscus of consciousness.Only the sandpiper it seemssees past its own reflection —and the kingfisher, who lunges nowthrough the shattered paneto that low strange corridorits glimpse of minnow wherelast year's leaves in a spectral cortege, litwith the amber half-lightof the after-lifeleach their tannins or settlelittle by little a skeletal traceryinto the bottom silt,thick as the dust of an undisturbednecropolis.While above an unseen hand works feverishlyto smooth the sheet of other-beingover the ever-unmade bed of the river.And while I'm going on like thisa something noses closer through the shallows,something I didn't notice, norhe me tilthwackand recoilthe beaver startled startles backhis blackjack tail on the water's patethenthwackagain               KERTHUNKin spreading rose-windowsof concussion. The Willow-Manitoulooks on and marvels.An after-sprite of droplets shivers down.Several weeks now he's been at itthis waterlogged carpetbaggerinterloping both the banks up and down.Daylong the air endures the raspand crepitation of his handiwork, ajigsaw of precision, each chiselled brancha deftly-placed sprag in the works.For these two are pittedhere and everywhereone against the other:the curving intelligence of river,the Cartesian architectonicof the beaver, part iconoclastbreaking the symmetries,troubling the face of the waters, partmasonic artificer, geometrician,master anaesthetician, plotting and frettingto put the river under andthree or four in confederacyequal to an entirearmy corps of engineers.But for now the river doesn't give a damn.Rather it is the dam that gives.And so on and so forth through the spate of May . . .Steve Shavel[photo by Jenna Sunshine][...]

Daniel Nathan Terry


[from Daniel Nathan Terry's Waxwings, Lethe, 2012]

Photograph, 1984

Swallow this
house — bedroom window paned
like a roadside cross
erected for a reckless boy, wreath
of camera-flare, paper flower of real grief
with too bright a center, edges finally fading
in shoebox weather.
                               You know
what happened there.
                                  You know
this is more than a snap-
shot. Flat as it seems, it will swell
on your red tongue and will become
those rooms — that room with its pale boy
sinking to his knees, again, sinking
into shadowed corners.
fold into black origami.
                                     Come, unhinge
your jaw like the copperhead you saw
becoming a blackbird in the woods — mouth-first,
then your throat, your white ribs and pink gut.
All that's left of you
                               must muscle through
the flapping wing, thin legs trembling,
one skeletal foot curling inward.
                                                   It's in you now —
the song, the sin, the bones, the room, him
telling you it's alright, and every man does it
when a girl leaves him empty-
             Swallow this
house, blackbird-who-became a snake. Swallow
this house and keep yourself
                                             from remembering
how to sing.


Evie Shockley


[from Evie Shockley's The New Black, Wesleyan, 2011]dear ace bandage,       the wound is hard to place.the wound is not your job.       i thought i needed you, butthings are already tight. you       are like putty in my hands,or is my thinking colored?       flesh tone or dial tone? whoyou gonna call? your pretty       silver broach sets in, holdsyou at a tension. could it       clasp the skin together longenough for two flaps to re-       attach? miss match. ace. deuce. game. open.dear cuddly dharma,       you make it easy to say no,just. i turn a blind eye to       temptation after staring hardinto your hydrogen smile. we       spoon, and i hate to stir, butfetish is always in the mix.       even fate looks glamorousby lamplight. spotlight. hot.       wound or would? would orwooden? batter batter batter!       you have a dream of night-marish proportions. where       there's a will, there's aweigh.unanchored. unmoored. off.dear existential fallacy,       i need you to be need me to liquidate       my account. pour, pour me,with my fluid tale. tail, to       hear you tell it. fluent in sixcurrencies. dirty lucre. you       tracking bills counterfeitedby the page. lyre, lyre, pants       the town crier. griot. seer.sikh. psyche. that, baby, went       out with the dirty dishwasher.cross my palm with olives:       i will tell you your pastime.your passive voice is dated.dear gift horse,       open wide. now bite down.that incident was not an       accident. don't. act like i'mstupid. do you come with       a saddle? which way tothe sunset? that's the thing       about possibility: it's darkin there. you can't judge       an r&b song by its covers.colors. dolores is blue: why       must she give up her securityblanket? she's had it since       she was born. my, what sharpteeth you have! all the better.dear ink jet,       black fast. greasy lightning.won't smear. won't rub off.       defense: a visual screen: askan octopus (bioaquadooloop).       footprints faster than a speed-ing bully, tracking dirt all       over the page. make everyword count. one. two. iamb.       octoroon. half-breed. mutt.mulatto. why are there so few       hybrids on the road? becausethey can't reproduce. trochee       choking okay mocha. ebony,by contrast, says so much.Evie Shockley[...]

Julie Carr


Julie Carr’s Sarah — of Fragments and Lines, Coffee House, 2012]

Conception Abstracts

                            Heat teems from the meat of the form

      Tame heat if tame form, if maimed form then fierce.
                       Seems eaten, this mate, this timed tenant.

Tenured member of my own passive nature, I tested the
tine of the task. Desperate for some apt rapture, tapped
the lap of the master. Faster. Water and laughter, the
last splatter of summer, later, the hot slap of not
sleeping. Walled by fault, the taut self slipped. And to
what heights after?


In the second week of solid rain, Sarah. You woke at dawn with 
a head of dream. Clover’s fell enthusiasm expands in the 
perpetual bath. Sarah. The lamp suspended in the garden, 
Sarah: Cheshire-like and falsely dear. We make boats of juice 
bottles, houses of cereal boxes, cats of toilet paper, eggs of 
lavender and stone. Sarah. At the festival of water we watch an 
orchestra of children sway to the music of their strings. And in 
your room you succumb. Learn as you are dying how to 
behave like one near dead. As magpie, you are eave-bound, 
acquisitive, indiscriminate. Beak clipping the scraps of your old 
existence, the strings of your future weave, Sarah. As duck you 
are industrious, with a reed in your possession, across pond 
you slide. But here, tatter-head, you are forced into days, 
broken into hours, and those hours mercilessly sliced.

Julie Carr

Arecelis Girmay


[from Arecelis Girmay's Kingdom Animalia, BOA, 2011]Small Letterdo not go, this day, the redof bridges, my little, staybeside me overthe ruins of san francisco.go, but do not gofrom me, my one,my love, my very kinwho I laughed with in our sleepevery night, my dreambeside your dream, for a year.wrecking ball despedida, wreckthe great rooms in my chest & takemy last song, but do not leave meon this earth, my onewithout my one. how wouldthe hand ever live, if it knewit would never braid your hairagain, or hold your face?it would get up & walkaway forever by one my breathswould go out looking: a processionof homeless dogs,                                                  or clouds[...]

Robert Duncan


[from Robert Duncan's The H. D. Book, California, 2012]

Threads are spun out and are woven, from event into event. Hands work the dancing shuttles of a close net to make things real, to realize what is happening. A tapestry of a life appears in the mesh of many lives, a play. But just as when we weave a complex of lines a cloud or atmosphere appears, a texture or cloth, something more than the threads told, and out of that texture appear, not only the figures we were translating into our design, but other figures of the ground itself; so a “life” appears in the work itself. The weaving or the painting or the writing is “subjective,” is an act out of however we can do it; the “subject matter” is “objective,” is some thing or event as actual as ourselves which we reach out to capture, to draw into a texture with ourselves. In the medium, our work and this thing become mixed, changed then.  A ground appears as a new condition of what we are doing. . . .

“the mind is upborne upon the emotional surge” [Pound]

There is a threatened chastity of mind in Pound that would put away, not face, the thought of hellish things, here in considering the Divine World, as later in considering fascism, where also he cannot allow that the sublime is complicit, involved in a total structure, with the obscene — what goes on backstage. Spirit in The Cantos will move as a crystal, clean and clear of the muddle, even the filth, of the world and its tasks thru which Psyche works in suffering towards Eros. . . .

The style of the artist, his signature or control, is . . . analogous to his character, the operation of energies in repression, of challenge and attack upon the world about him . . . The grace of the artist is analogous to his nature, a given thing, the operation of energies in freedom, of response and self derivation from the world. Style, being wrested from Nature, is mastery; Grace, being given, is the service. The Art here being to keep alive in one process mastery in service, service in mastery. . . .

Paradise or first Eden survives in its never having yielded satisfaction. A rapture that leaves the poet hungry for rapture.

João Cabral de Melo Neto


[from João Cabral de Melo Neto's Education by Stone: Selected Poems, tr. Richard Zenith, Archipelago, 2005]Party at the Manor House [excerpts](Congressional rhythm, Northeast accent)1– The sugar mill worker   in a large or small mill– Is the same mill worker   with a different rhyme.– The sugar mill worker   in a raw mill or refinery:– "Sugar mill worker"   is the crucial denominator.– Any sugar mill worker   from any Pernambuco:– When he says "sugar mill worker"   will have said everything.– Whatever his name,   position or salary:– By saying "sugar mill worker,"   he will have said it all.11– The sugar mill worker   in female form– Is an empty sack   that stands on two feet.– The female mill worker   is essentially a sack– Of sugar without   any sugar inside.– The sugar mill worker   in female form– Is a sack that cannot   conserve or contain,– She's a sack made   just to be emptied– Of other sacks made in her   nobody knows how.2– The sugar mill worker   looks like us from a distance:– Looking closer one sees   what sets him apart.– The sugar mill worker   up close, to a sharp eye:– Is in all respects human   but at half the price.– He is missing nothing   that you and I have,   down to every detail,   like any normal man.– He's the same, yet seems   to have been cut out   by the dull scissors   of a third-rate tailor.7– The sugar mill worker   looks like flesh and blood:– Looking closer one sees   just what substance he is.– The mill worker's body   when actually touched– Proves to be different,   of a thinner consistence.– Its texture is rough   and at the same time slack,   like cheap cotton cloth   or like cotton scraps.– Like well-worn cloths   torn and tattered   to where, in our language   cloths become rags.12– The sugar mill worker   seems to be of our clay:– Looking closer one sees   that his clay was grayer.– The sugar mill worker   is shadowy and dim:– He never learns to shine   like the sugar mill's steels.– He can't even shine   like the duller copper   of the vats he stirs   in the smaller mills.– He never even learns   to shine like the hoe handles   he dry polishes daily   with his sandpaper hand.13– The sugar mill worker   when he's at work:– Everything he works with   feels heavy to him.– It's as if his blood,   though thinner than ours,   weighed on his body   like juice when thick.– Like sugarcane juice which,   after much cooking,   gets thicker and thicker   until it's molasses.– The sugar mill worker   has a heavy rhythm:– Like the final molasses   leaving the final vat.9– The sugar mill worker   yellowishly lives   among all that blue   which is always Pernambuco.– Even against the yellow   of the canefield straw,   his yellow is st[...]

João Cabral de Melo Neto


[from João Cabral de Melo Neto in Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, ed. Stephen Tapscott, Texas, 1996]

Weaving the Morning


One rooster does not weave a morning,
he will always need the other roosters,
one to pick up the shout that he
and toss it to another, another rooster
to pick up the shout that a rooster before him
and toss it to another, and other roosters
with many other roosters to criss-cross
the sun-threads of their rooster-shouts
so that the morning, starting from a frail cobweb,
may go on being woven, among all the roosters.


And growing larger, becoming a cloth,
pitching itself a tent where they all may enter,
inter-unfurling itself for them all, in the tent
(the morning) which soars free of ties and ropes –
the morning, tent of a weave so light
that, woven, it lifts itself through itself: balloon light.

tr. Galway Kinnell

João Cabral de Melo Neto

Alice Notley


[from Alice Notley's Culture of One, Penguin, 2011]

Culture of One

Marie made things in the gully: she made her life, sure, more than practically anyone else did, but she wrote things down on paper discarded in the dump and she made figures out of wood and rocks and cord and burntness and whatever. The figures didn't really look like anyone, maybe her a little, and the dogs the same color as everything with wolf mouths, I mean coyote.

Every once in a while a kid burned down her shack, while she was out foraging. Then her works both written and made out of stuff would get burnt. She'd start again. She always remembered how to do it.

Where does culture come from? It comes from the materials you do it with.

When she made the shark out of rotting wood, I guess it was just a fish. A carp, probably, but she called it a shark. She put a little woman in its mouth, but it wasn't her; and it wasn't me, whatever I say. It was the wood calling out. It was just some woman, no it wasn't even a woman.

What are you going to do when they burn up your shack? I don't care, it'll still be great here.

Marianne Boruch


[from Marianne Boruch's Grace, Fallen From, Wesleyan, 2011]

A Moment

Maybe it's common, this sort
of first meeting. But once, before a guest house
in Germany, the friend
of a friend to come by, and dinner –
that's it, we'll go to dinner, have the famous
spargel, that rare white asparagus, only
in May, our evening pre-arranged by phone,
by email. I need to say again we
hadn't met. Outside I stood
at the door, it being spring, every tree
gloriously poised. And a stranger,
another woman, she too waiting
but near the curb, looking
this way and that, attentive to traffic, hours
from dusk because we were north,
near the sea. And tall, she was towering,
older than I was, hugely
made-up, such meticulous work
behind that elegant finish. Then the friend
of my friend – could that be? –his
parking, his pulling himself
out of that tiny car.
Please understand. I'm usually
right there rushing in, because the world
requires that, loves the quickening
of that. But I was
or I wasn't. Or I was small
but there is smaller. To my left, a door.
Some tree flowering at my right.
I watched as he
to that woman said my name
so charmingly, a question, tilting
his head, are you . . . ? sorry to disturb,
are you . . . ? And in that pause –
her vague focusing on him, her loose
finding him now – I leaned forward,
simply curious: what
would she say? smile? yes? tell him yes?
So the thread breaks. So water in a glass
clouds and maybe clears.
So I waited, giving up
everything, to anyone,
just like that.

Marianne Boruch

Octavio Paz


[from Octavio Paz's The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, ed. Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 1990]Duration         "Thunder and wind: duration."                                              I ChingISky black                Yellow earthThe rooster tears the night apartThe water wakes and asks what time it isThe wind wakes and asks for youA white horse goes byIIAs the forest in its bed of leavesyou sleep in your bed of rainyou sing in your bed of windyour kiss in your bed of sparksIIIMultiple vehement odormany-handed bodyOn an invisible stem a singlewhitenessIVSpeak listen answer mewhat the thunderclapsays, the woodsunderstandVI enter by your eyesyou come forth by my mouthYou sleep in my bloodI waken in your headVII will speak to you in stone-language(answer with a green syllable)I will speak to you in snow-language(answer with a fan of bees)I will speak to you in water-language(answer with a canoe of lightning)I will speak to you in blood-language(answer with a tower of birds)         – translated by Denise LevertovDuración         "Trueno y viento: duración."                                              I ChingINegro el cielo                      Amerilla la tierraEl gallo desgarra la nocheEl agua se levanta y pregunta la horaEl viento se levanta y pregunta por tiPasa un caballo blancoIIComo el bosque en su lecho de hojastú duermes en tu lecho de lluviatú cantas en tu lecho de vientotú besas en tu lecho de chispasIIIOlor vehemencia numerosacuerpo de muchas manosSobre un tallo invisibleuna sola blancuraIVHabla escucha respóndemelo que dice el truenolo comprende el bosqueVEntro por tus ojossales por mi bocaDuermes en mi sangredespierto en tu frenteVITe hablaré un lenguaje de piedra(respondes con un monosílabo verde)Te hablaré un lenguaje de nieve(respondes con un abanico de abejas)Te hablaré un lenguaje de agua(respondes con una canoa de relámpagos)Te hablaré un lenguaje de sangre(respondes con una torre de pájaros)Octavio Paz, 1936[...]

César Vallejo


[from César Vallejo's Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, ed./tr. Clayton Eshleman, University of California, 2007]

Distant Footsteps

      My father is asleep. His august face
expresses a peaceful heart;
he is now so sweet . . .
if there is anything bitter in him, it must be me.

      There is loneliness in the house; there is prayer;
and no news of the children today.
My father stirs, sounding
the flight into Egypt, the styptic farewell.
He is now so near;
if there is anything distant in him, it must be me.

      My mother walks in the orchard,
savoring a savor now without savor.
She is so soft,
so wing, so gone, so love.

      There is loneliness in the house with no bustle,
no news, no green, no childhood.
And if there is something broken this afternoon,
something that descends and that creaks,
it is two old white, curved roads.
Down them my heart makes its way on foot.

Los Pasos Lejanos

      Mi padre duerme. Su semblante augusto
figura un apacible corazón;
está ahora tan dulce . . .
si hay algo en él de amargo, seré yo.

      Hay soledad en el hogar; se reza;
y no hay noticias de los hijos hoy.
Mi padre se despierta, ausculta
la huida a Egipto, el restañante adiós.
Está ahora tan cerca;
si hay algo en él de lejos, seré yo.

      Y mi madre pasea allá en los huertos,
saboreando un sabor ya sin sabor.
Está ahora tan suave,
tan ala, tan salida, tan amor.

      Hay soledad en el hogar sin bulla,
sin noticias, sin verde, sin niñez.
Y si hay algo quebrado en esta tarde,
y que baja y que cruje,
son dos viejos caminos blancos, curvos.
Por ellos va mi corazón a pie.

César Vallejo

Joanna Catherine Scott


[from Joanna Catherine Scott & John Lee Conaway's An Innocent in the House of the Dead, Main Street Rag, 2011]

In Which You Tell Me You Have Set Islam Aside . . .

I used to dream, you say, that one day
I would take a pilgrimage to Mecca,

but I have given Islam up,
I have taken my name off all the lists,

I no longer go to pray.
Although I pray to Allah in my heart,

I thank him for the Qur'an,
which I also have inside my heart.

Get knowledge and understanding,
it instructs me.

And so I read and read and think,
and argue with myself, and others too,

and have become a wiser person
on account of it.

Which is why I have set Islam aside.
What point is there,

I came to understand,
in fighting with an enemy

who has the upper hand?
What point in setting myself up

for persecution by the guards and wardens
because I wear the Muslim cap

and fast for Ramadan?
A man must act upon his wisdom.

So I have set aside the kufi.
I do not abase myself.

I have light within me, though.
They cannot take that away.

. . . And I Drive Home in the Rain

The fallen sky laying itself out
and laying itself out along the road

like grey-clad pilgrims
abasing themselves full-length

and rising,
and then the abasement

and the rising up again,
end-to-ending themselves

like inchworms inching their way
across grey countryside

toward the holy city,
pelted on, and blown up

into a thousand falling fragments
by lumbering grey trucks.

Gathering themselves together.
Shaking off the insult.

Rising and abasing.
Rising and abasing.

And being blessed for it.
And being blessed for it.

That glittering
spinning off the wheels.

Joanna Catherine Scott

Virgil via Kimberly Johnson


[from Virgil's The Georgics: A Poem of the Land, tr. Kimberly Johnson, Penguin, 2009]Book One [excerpt]For this the golden sun maintains its orbitmarked through the zodiacal twelve in marches fixed.Five zones comprise the firmament, of which one ever blushesunder the flaring sun, ever scorched by its fire.Around this at the poles to right and left stretchbleak zones, ice-crusted and dark with storms.Between the ice and middle fire, two zones to frail humanityby grace of God are granted. A path cuts through them bothon which oblique the ranks of constellations spin.As the earth surges steeply up to Scythiaand the Rhipean crags, so it sinks sloping to Libya's south.The zenith ever vaults above us, the nadirunderfoot glowers at inky Styx and shades infernal.Vast with sinuous coils here glides the Serpent,weaving like a river round and through the Bears –two Bears that fear to plunge the ocean's plane.There, they say, may lurk dank nightand the shadows ever clotting under night's shroud . . .or else Dawn removes from us, returns their dayand when sunrise with his panting team first breatheson us, there ruddy Vesper kindles the late hour's lights.So we can forecast weather though the skyequivocate, so know the harvest-day, the time to sow,when to smack with oars the sea's treacherous slateand when to launch the bristling fleetor in the woods to topple the ready pine.Not in vain do we observe the rise and set of signsand the year, orderly in its four dissimilar seasons.Liber I [excerpt]Idcirco certis dimensum partibus orbemper duodena regit mundi sol aureus astra.quinque tenent caelum zonae; quarum una coruscosemper sole rubens et torrida semper ab igni;quam circum extremae dextra laevaque trahunturcaeruleae, glacie concretae atque imbribus atris;has inter mediamque duae mortalibus aegrismunere concessae divum, et via secta per ambas,obliquus qua se signorum verteret ordo.mundus ut ad Scythiam Rhipaeasque arduus arcesconsurgit, premitur Libyae devexus in Austros.hic vertex nobis semper sublimis; at illumsub pedibus Styx atra videt Manesque profundi.maximus hic flexu sinuoso elabitur Anguiscircum perque duas in morem fluminis Arctos,Arctos Oceani metuentis aequore tingui.illic, ut perhibent, aut intempesta silet nox,semper et obtenta densentur nocte tenebrae;aut redit a nobis Aurora diemque reducit,nosque ubi primus equis Oriens adflavit anhelis,illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.hinc tempestates dubio praediscere caelo possumus, hinc messisque diem tempusque serendi,et quando infidum remis impellere marmorconveniat, quando armatas deducere classis,aut tempestivam silvis evertere frustra signorum obitus speculamur et ortus,temporibusque parem diversis quattuor annum.Kimberly Johnson[...]

James Lord


[from James Lord's My Queer War, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010]I went along to the nearby rue Christine, No. 5, to call on Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. The two women had recently been escorted in an army plane around Germany, Miss Stein making speeches to the troops and posing on the blasted terrace of Hitler's hideaway in Berchtesgaden. The GIs apparently enjoyed Gertrude's no-nonsense, didactic but natural talk, and we were encouraged to consider her a folksy mother of us all. . . .her rue Christine salon was regularly crowded with eager listeners to the cello voice of that imposing lady. And the presence of all those soldiers, like all the Picassos on the walls, seemed to everyone concerned a delightful and self-evident demonstration of cultural inevitability.Miss Stein took me by the arm into the entry hall. She had read the play and had clearly read it with care. "Your writing reads well," she said, "and maybe someday writing will be a reality for you, and I have one piece of advice to give you that every writer who is going to be a real writer must be given sometime by somebody, and it is to consider your emotions more carefully. A real writer must be very sure of his emotions before putting a pen to paper, so that is what I advise you to do, to consider your emotions more carefully." . . .Miss Stein returned with Basket on a leash . . . she spoke of the GIs who were already being shipped from home for discharge. Their visits had begun to weary her, but she was sorry to see them go. And sorry for them as well, she added, because never again in their lives would they be so happy.At that moment there was hardly an American in uniform who didn't long to shed it as quickly as possible. We were sick of the army, sick of the war and its stresses and qualms. I disagreed with Miss Stein and said so.She stopped abruptly and faced me on the sidewalk in the sun. Repeating what she'd already said, she dogmatically added that war possesses an irresistible appeal for young soldiers caused by the thrill of a superhuman power to kill with impunity, and because of it, because of the naive confidence that no harm can come to them, they have at their fingertips a greater power than ever in their lives they will wield again, and they are like bloodthirsty gods united in the climactic comradeship of killing, and that is why they will never again be so happy.I was indignant at the pontifical self-assurance of the lady, solid as cement in her tweed suit, and I once more said that I disagreed with her.She said it didn't matter because I was too young, too inexperienced, and too obutse in my emotions to realize she was right.I stood there. I was transfixed. And then I said she was not right, she was wrong, she was a stupid old woman and didn't understand anything.I turned away. Without waiting for her to answer, I turned away abruptly and left her standing there in the street with her white dog on the leash, walked to the rue des Grands Agustins without once glancing back, went around the corner, and I never saw Gertrude Stein again. . . .I was shaken with anger at having been talked down to by an elderly woman. But I realized she'd been amazingly prescient and had understood the true facts of life of fighting men as well as I did, though she had never faced artillery fire or faced a Nazi tank. My irritation wanted to be vindicated even at the cost of making Miss Stein appear to have been in the wrong. So I climbed the staircase to Picasso's [...]

Robert Duncan


[from The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, ed. Robert J. Bertholf & Albert Gelpi, Stanford, 2004][Duncan to Levertov, 13 May 1963]convention as "form" = goes along with the natural is formless; man puts the world in order//or(2) with God formed the world as a paradigm in the beginning and disorder enterd thru man's sin. Only by conventicle, good behaviour, does man return to the lost order. A poem (subject always to man's sinfulness) attempts to atone by obedience to prescription. Here freedom = (a) disorder or (b) sin.organism as "form" =all experience is formal – We feel things at all only in so far as we awake to the form. Here the form of the poem is the feeling (and where form fails, feeling fails). "Inner" and "outer" are, if we could grasp the terms of cosmic form, in tune. We have only to discover the scale (so here I am organic as well as linguistic)."linguistic" form =the artist uses language to make forms, and in this he [is] in a creature/creator relation to a god who is also creature/creator of the whole. Where "organic" poetry refers to personal emotions and impressions – the concourse between organism and his world: the linguistic follows emotions and images that appear in the language itself as a third "world;" true to what is happening in the syntax as another man might be true to what he sees or verse =the poem does not find or make but expresses, and the poem has its virtue in the ecstatic state or emotional state aroused by rhythms and rime even, where the poet can pour forth what he feels//and/or God speaks thru the poet once his voice is free. Here form = restriction I'm thinking of a Hassidic interpretation of the law against making a graven image meaning that speech should not be made in that sense but speak from the heart. Free verse just doesn't believe in the struggle of rendering in which not only the soul but the world must enter into the conception of the poem. Experience is an engagement and responsibility to outer as well as inner.Two forms of free verse would be Amy Lowell's impressionism and Ginsberg's "Howl."[Duncan to Levertov, 28 November 1961]You see you have three presences for me, Denny, that touch the deepest life feeling. One is the Denise I have been able openly to speak of, the companion in art – where in certain poems of yours, by grace of your “poet,” I am brought into that heart of life that poetry opens: then this poet you are I love because you are most true. No . . . it seems more that through loving this you so I come to love what is most true. And then, sometimes you are a poetic conscience for me. Not that my truth will be like yours – but that just where I fail my own poet, I betray this love.Then there is, related, another presence: an idea of you or something you mean to me – yet it also seems to be really you and to reach the heart. I am troubled here, Denise, to make it clear, but just as my poet has existed in the light of your poet, my self does. And the "to thine own self be true" has existed, for always now it seems, as if that meant being true in your eyes. So I am always just that shy of, just that troubled in thinking of your love or mine because so often I seem to fail so miserably to "be myself." Maybe, I wanted to say "Be loyal to my self" but also "love me as I am not my self."The third is just your real actual presence, where I have never felt these ghosts of conscience. When I've been with you[...]

Elena Milán


[from Elena Milán @ Mouth to Mouth: Poems by Twelve Contemporary Mexican Women, ed. Forrest Gander, Milkweed, 1993]

Alucinación I

Supongamos que una zona del mundo se ha unido
del Atlántico al Pacifico,
de Portugal al Japón;
desde el Mediterráneo y Mar del Norte,
al Artico hacia el este.
Supongamos que soplan mitos extraños
desde las viejas cavernas de Altamira
y las ruinas del Turkistán,
algo así como naves vikingas
y nuevas leyendas de tártaros y samurais.
Supongamos que el gobierno yanki no les gusta
y deciden desestabilizarlo.

Hallucination I

Let's supose a zone of the world falls together
from Atlantic to Pacific,
from Portugal to Japan;
from the Mediterranean to the North Sea
to the eastern Arctic.
Let's suppose strange myths lift
from the ancient caves of Altamira
and the ruins of Turkistan,
something like Viking ships
and fresh legends of Tartars and samurai.
Let's suppose the Yankee government doesn't please them
and they decide to destabilize it.

tr. Forrest Gander