Fables of Representation

[The photo of Adorno with headphones was found online]

My book of essays, Fables of Representation, was published by University of Michigan Press in 2004. The title essay on the New York School was made possible by series editor David Lehman, who, on seeing that the manuscript had only a few short newspaper reviews of Kenneth Koch and others, suggested I write an essay on the entire group. His own critical study and history of the NY School, The Last Avant-Garde, is of course definite. After I wrote the 50-page essay, it became the major feature of the manuscript and we lent its title to the entire volume. I don't recall if the following exam from the book has been published online, but here it is anyway.

The Postmodern Era: A Final Exam
True or False / Multiple Choice (two points each):

1. Art of the postmodern period is:
a. minimal
b. mystical
c. mannerist
d. post-literate
e. all of the above

2. The filmscript operates at the speed of attention, novels at the speed of history, poetry at the speed of myth, and myth at the speed of time.

3. The past is conditional, the future absolute, the present open to negotiation.

4. The past is ungendered, the future impotent, the present having an operation.

5. Transgression is sentimental.

6. The closer writing comes to theory, the more narrative it becomes.

7. Without language, the world would vanish.

8. Nature is bored with the truth.

9. Photography relies on the unfamiliar.

10. Polaroid photos of snow are more poetic than snow itself.

11. Poetry tells fewer lies.

12. Irony is the best disguise.

13. Apples can no longer be understood.

14. Music at its most social resembles literature; literature at its most hermetic resembles music.

15. There is no difference between a censorate and an aesthetic.

16. Bad art is central to the concept of pleasure.

17. There is no tyranny like that of "the new."

18. The best poets of the avant-garde are those who most betray its mission.

19. Poetry is the science of the irrational.

20. "The inarticulate voice makes a real place disappear" (Greil Marcus).

21. "The brand-new arrives already worn out" (Vincent Canby).

22. The answer to America's problems is:
a. corporate enrichment poverty programs
b. corporate diversity whitewash spokesmen
c. holistic cappuccino overdose remedies

23. Obsessional repetition assumes classical proportions--the music, for example, of Philip Glass.

24. Mothers are transparent, fathers opaque.

25. The future is bright for dead white men.

26. The moon's authority is on the wane.

27. Which is true?
a. "The source of all writing is boredom" (Marguerite Duras).
b. The source of all boredom is writing.

28. Imagination is voyeuristic.

29. Nothing is less mimetic than a mirror.

30. Equality of mediocrity has been achieved.

31. Choose one:
a. "An image is a stop the mind makes between two uncertainties" (Djuna Barnes).
b. A photograph is a pause between two eternities.

32. The deepest point of postmodern attention is the pause button on a VCR.

33. Watching television is a pastoral experience.

34. The beauty of trompe l'oeil, like life, is when it starts to decay.

35. Pomposity is necessary to any aesthetic.

36. "There is no great idea that stupidity cannot put to its own uses" (Robert Musil).

37. The greatest writers have the worst characters.

38. The future isn't what it used to be.

39. America lacks a folk culture.

40. Things are useless without their metaphors.

41. Theory has completed its mission.

42. Scientists and engineers are the poets of our time, the poets its cultural technicians.

43. The speed of attention is altered by language.

44. Everything "new" in literature had its exact precedent in 1898.

45. Banality was once an original concept.

46. The only way of "proving" a poem is to test it on one's nerves; in this, it resembles sex.

47. Only the poor have gods; only the rich achieve redemption.

48. Multiculturalism is the white woman's burden.

49. Every force restrains a form.

50. Disjunction heals all wounds.

Tobias Wolff reads his work

Tobias Wolff
Reads from His Work
Friday, November 12, 7 p.m.
de Young Museum of Fine Art
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco

Parking is available in the museum on Fulton just east of Park Presidio Drive
For further information: (415) 750-7634

$10 museum members and students; $20 non-members
Order in advance for this event: https://tickets.famsf.org/public/

Tobias Wolff is one of the country’s most widely admired fiction writers. His works of fiction include Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, Back in the World, The Barracks Thief, and the memoirs This Boy’s Life and In Pharoah’s Army. His work appears regularly in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harper's, among other notable publications.

In a Suburb of the Spirit (Homophonic Series)

I've mentioned this series of poems before. It's three poems from my sonnet book Nervous Songs, published 1986, followed by four homophonic translations of the same. Homophonic translation is English to English translation to other words and phrases similar in sound to the original. Here I present only one of the series.

In a Suburb of the Spirit

Everything has happened. Nothing is quite new.
Summer is so old it wrinkles at the edges.
Nothing is surprising. Nothing should alarm.
It’s the same old rain over and over.
The sun is old, and the light is so decrepit
it lies flat on the ground and can't get up again.
Even your anger is old. It’s large or small,
but all of your life it’s been the same. Then

everything is new. Nothing ever ages. There
was no wind until just now, no glacier until you
thought of it. Fish change every second. Every glance
makes a new landscape, and the sea has a stiff new shine
as it moves around on crutches. Clouds are shaped
like typewriters. Things amaze. Nothing dies.

The very inch is a gap-end. Nothing is quite true.
Summer is so cold it buckles and fledges.
Nothing’s enterprising. Nothing good swarms.
It’s the same old game, cover to cover.
A hand is gold, and the blight is so electric
it lies flat as a hound and can’t get it up again.
Even your anger is moldy in a barge or mall.
Bunt all your life—shit’s been the same. Blend

every inch, it’s true: nothing never rages. Harry
washes no windows until just now, no glaziers under glue.
Dock off it. Fish change every session. The very glance
shakes the blue land’s shape; the lea’s a stiff blue line.
Such proofs are not hunches. Clouds are shaped
like bike riders. Das Ding’s ablaze. Nothing flies.

Everything is a mapping. No mapping in life’s view.
Summer is so cold it drinks from our ledges.
Nothing is surpassing. Nothing should conform.
It’s the same cold rain that covers like a lover.
The gun is sold, and the night is given credit.
Shit lies flat on the ground and cants back up again.
Even our strangers grow cold. It’s Marge or Paul.
But tall as your life it’s been the same. Then

everything is true. Nothing ever fades. There
was no ink until just now, no eraser until truth
doubted it. A leash hangs every second. Every hand
wants a good handshake, and the sea has a stiff tune’s cry
as it grooves on down and fusses. The proud are shaped
like typed letters. Lingering amazement. Nothing hides.

Every sin is sharp. Not every sin’s quite you.
Some are so bold they rankle at the pledging.
No sin is surprising. No sin, if good, can harm.
Sin’s the same old game, forever like a river.
The sun is gold, and its flight is so perfected
it buys back the ground and can’t get wet again.
Even the danger is old. It’s marginal or all,
but all your life it’s been no gain. Sin’s

very sting is new. No sin ever ages. There
was no sin until just now, no engagement if you
shouted it. Bliss changes every stone. Air and sand
create chance states, and the knee has a lively shine
that loves the ground it touches. The proud are shaped
like tightrope walkers. Things are crazy. Something dies.

Air and singing wraps us. No singing is quite pure.
Some are so low they sink at the pledging.
No singing is surprising. Not singing good alarms.
The same cold rain falls over and over.
The stunned are cold, and their plight so expected
it lies back like a sound and can’t erupt again.
Even our language is old. It’s dark or it’s cold,
but, small as life, it rains in Spain. Against

each singing, truth. No singing on pages. There
was no singing until the hour, no lazy air until truth’s
caught in it. A wish sings every second. Every mansion
breaks a loose handshake, and steel has the gift of shining
as it moves around in a funk. The bound are taped
to the skylights. Sing unfazed. No singing signs.

Ficticia by Maria Baranda

Recently available at www.spdbooks.org: Ficticia. Price: $15.00. Pages: 80 Poetry. Translated by from the Spanish by Joshua Edwards. FICTICIA was first published in Mexico in 2006. The book is a trilogy of long poems: an initial sequence bearing the overall title, a series of "Letters to Robinson," and a "Sky Cycle." While these series are distinct poems, they are all interconnected and intended to amplify each other and make a greater whole. The first sequence has a narrative voice and addresses an unidentified "you"; the second, the Letters, is addressed to Robinson, a witness to the events that unfold; the third returns to the narrative voice.

Author Hometown: Mexico City MEX

Sunk Off Cape Wrath: Ships of the Ellerman Line

Here's a list of Ships of the Ellerman Wilson Line (UK): weight in tons sometimes given. The entire list runs A to Z. These are the ships and their fates, A-D. Fate is poetry of a kind, depending on your history and size.

Aaro (1) 1909 1916 torpedoed and sunk in North Sea; loss of 3 lives. 2,603
Aaro (2) 1960 1972 sold to Maldive Islands, renamed Maldive Trust. 2,468
Albano (1) see Albion.
Albano (2) 1913 1940 mined and sunk off Northumberland; loss of 9 lives. 1,176
Albano (3) 1947 1962 sold to Cayman Islands, renamed Magister. 2,239
Albion 1861 1880 renamed Albano (1), 1896 sold to Marine Association, Port Talbot. 900
Alecto 1893 1910 sold to Pangalos, Syra, renamed Pangalos. 3,607
Aleppo 1900 1929 sold to Italy, renamed Apollo. 3,870
Angelo (1) 1874 1906 scrapped. 1,536
Angelo (2) 1940 1962 sold to Panama, renamed Nevada II. 2,199
Angelo (3) see Byland Abbey.
Apollo (1) 1865 1882 sank SW of Ushant after collision with SS Precurseur (French); loss of 6 lives. 1,336
Apollo (2) 1887 1894 went missing in Atlantic. 3,163
Arctic 1859 1860 wrecked off Jutland; loss of 8 lives. 674
Argo (1) 1860 1896 sold to Sitges, Algiers, renamed Nuevo Correo de Alicante. 778
Argo (2) 1898 1932 scrapped. 1,102
Argyle 1872 1903 taken over with Bailey & Leetham fleet, 1914 sold to British Admiralty and sunk as blockship at Scapa Flow. 1,185
Ariosto (1) 1890 1910 sold to Spain, renamed Luis Vives. 2,376
Ariosto (2) 1910 1932 scrapped. 4,313
Ariosto (3) 1940 1941 torpedoed and sunk in Atlantic. 2,176
Ariosto (4) 1946 1967 scrapped. 2,195
Ariosto (5) see Kirkham Abbey.
Atlantic 1857 1874 sold to J. Moss & Co, Liverpool. 1,320
Austria 1890 1903 taken over with Bailey & Leetham fleet, 1912 sold to Belgium, renamed Aduatiek. 2,221
Baltic (1) 1854 1856 sold to Calcutta & Burma SN Co. 536
Baltic (2) 1858 1861 wrecked Dago Island, Gulf of Finland. 631
Baron Hambro 1861 1866 purchased from Harrington & Co., London, 1871 sold to G. Todd, London. 498
Bassano (1) 1872 ex- Altona, Hamburg, 1879 purchased after stranding, renamed Bassano, 1899 sold and scrapped. 1,819
Bassano (2) 1909 1932 scrapped. 4,296
Bassano (3) 1937 1943 torpedoed and sunk in Atlantic. 4,843
Bassano (4) 1946 1967 sold to Greece, renamed Athanasia. 4,986
Bayardo 1911 1912 ran aground and wrecked in River Humber. 3,470
Bona 1883 1903 taken over with Bailey & Leetham fleet, 1905 sold to Kunstmann, Stettin, renamed Teutonia. 1,516
Borodino (1) 1880 1909 scrapped. 1,264
Borodino (2) 1911 1939 requisitioned and sunk as blockship at Zeebrugge.
Borodino (3) 1950 1967 scrapped. 3,206
Bothnia 1861 1861 went missing at sea; loss of 22 lives. 723
Bravo (1) 1866 1904 sold to Bell's Asia Minor SS Co, Alexandria. 795
Bravo (2) 1947 1966 sold to Fairtide Ltd, Rochester renamed Constantine. 1,798
Bruno 1892 1906 sold to Wilsons & North Eastern Railway Shipping Co, 1909 sold to
R. Newman, Victoria BC, renamed Prince Albert. 841
Buffalo (1) 1885 New York service, 1903 scrapped. 4,427
Buffalo (2) 1907 1917 torpedoed and sunk off Cape Wrath. 4,106
Byland Abbey 1956 1965 purchased from British Railways, 1968 renamed Angelo (3),
1970 sold to Maldive Islands renamed Maldive Exporter. 1,372
Cairo 1883 1903 sold to O. Wingren, Oskarshamn. 1,671
Calypso (1) 1865 1902 scrapped. 1,337
Calypso (2) 1904 1916 torpedoed and sunk in Skaggerak; loss of 30 lives. 2,876
Calypso (3) 1897 ex- Alexandra Woermann, Woermann Line, Hamburg, 1920 war reparations and renamed Calypso, 1936 scrapped. 3,820
Cameo 1876 1908 scrapped. 1,272
Cannizaro 1914 1917 torpedoed and sunk off Fastnet. 6,133
Carlo (1) 1913 1917 torpedoed and sunk off Coningbeg Lightship. 1,937
Carlo (2) 1911 ex- Las Palmas, Oldenburg-Portuguese Line, 1920 war reparations and renamed Carlo, 1939 sold to British Admiralty. 1,740
Carlo (3) 1947 1966 sold to Greece, renamed Pelasgos. 1,799
Castello 1896 1913 sold to Anghelatos, Constantinople, renamed Grigorios Anghelatos.
Castro (1) 1899 1901 sold to Rigaer, Riga, renamed Sergei, 1921 repurchased, 1923 sunk in collision with SS Juno in River Humber; no loss of life. 1,305
Castro (2) 1911 1914 seized by Germany, renamed Libau and scuttled in 1916. 1,228
Castro (3) see Sappho (2)
Castro (4) 1910 ex- Darlington, 1937 transferred from Wilsons & North Eastern Railway Shipping Co. and renamed Castro, 1937 sold to Stanhope SS Co., renamed Stanrock. 1,076
Cato (1) 1867 1907 sold to Aden, renamed Jaffari. 924
Cato (2) 1913 ex- Fink, Gribel, Stettin fleet, 1920 war reparations and renamed Cato, 1938 sold to Italy, renamed Andrea Contarini. 1,436
Cattaro (1) 1912 1917 torpedoed and sunk in Atlantic. 1,901
Cattaro (2) 1945 1967 sold to Panama, renamed Vrachos. 2,883
Cavallo (1) 1913 1918 torpedoed and sunk off Trevose Head; loss of 3 lives. 2,086
Cavallo (2) 1922 1941 bombed and sunk at Greece. 2,268
Cavallo (3) 1951 1971 sold to Maldive Islands, renamed Maldive Venture. 2,340
Chemnitz 1901 ex- North German Lloyd, 1921 war reparations, 1923 scrapped. 7,681
Chicago (1) 1884 ex- Lincoln City, 1885 purchased from Furness Line and renamed Chicago, 1898 renamed Salerno (2), 1890 sold to Macbeth & Moorehead, Glasgow. 2,729
Chicago (2) 1898 1898 sold to Wilsons & Furness-Leyland Line renamed Etonian. 6,408
Chicago (3) 1917 1918 torpedoed and sunk off Flamborough Head. 7,709
Cicero (1) 1895 1918 scuttled in Baltic to avoid capture by German forces. 1,834
Cicero (2) 1954 1970 sold to Maldive Islands, renamed Maldive Builder. 2,499
Cito (1) 1899 1906 sold to Wilsons & North Eastern Railway Shipping Co, 1917 shelled and sunk by German destroyers in North Sea; loss of 10 lives. 819
Cito (2) 1922 1937 sold to United Africa Co., renamed Akassian. 692
City of Hongkong 1924 1925 transferred to Ellerman Line. 9,678
City of Ripon see Lepanto (2)
Claro 1900 1926 sold to Transteve SS Co, Riga, renamed Transteve. 2,187
Cleopatra 1898 1898 sold to Atlantic Transport Line, renamed Mohegan. 6,889
Clio (1) 1864 1866 stranded Jutland, salvaged and sold to Bailey & Leetham, Hull.
Clio (2) 1889 1914 sold to British Admiralty, sunk as blockship at Scapa Flow. 2,697
Colenso 1900 1915 shelled and sunk by U-Boat off Malta; loss of 1 life. 3,861
Colombo 1872 New York service, 1877 went missing at sea; loss of 44 lives. 2,624
Colorado (1) 1887 New York service, 1907 scrapped. 4,220
Colorado (2) 1914 1917 torpedoed and sunk off Start Point; loss of 4 lives. 5,652
Colorado (3) 1923 1925 transferred to Ellerman Line, renamed City of Osaka. 6,614
Como (1) 1871 1905 scrapped. 1,492
Como (2) 1910 1926 sold to Ellerman Line, 1930 resold to Wilson Line, 1945 sold to H. Lenaghan, Belfast. 1,246
Congo 1890 1909 sold to J. Roussos, Syra, renamed Nicolaos Roussos. 2,906
Consuelo (1) 1900 1908 sold to Cairn Line, renamed Cairnrona. 6,025
Consuelo (2) 1937 1963 sold to Grosvenor Shipping Co., London, renamed Grosvenor Discoverer. 4,847
Corso 1894 1898 sank in River Elbe after collision with SS German. 895
Courier 1850 1854 sold to North of Europe Steam Nav.Co. 323
Dago (1) 1902 1942 bombed and sunk off Portugal; no loss of life. 1,654
Dago (2) 1947 1962 sold to South Africa, renamed Verge. 2,302
Darino 1917 1921 sold to Ellerman Lines. 1,433
Delta 1900 1903 taken over with Bailey & Leetham fleet, 1904 sold to Hough, Liverpool, renamed Annie Hough. 1,109
Destro (1) 1914 1918 torpedoed and sunk off Galloway. 859
Destro (2) 1920 1925 sold to Ellerman Lines. 3,553
Destro (3) 1970 1973 transferred to Ellerman Line, 1978 sold to Italy, renamed Jolly Azzuro. 1,571
Dido (1) 1862 1894 sold to Earles Shipbuilding Co, Hull. 1,062
Dido (2) 1896 1916 mined and sunk near Spurn Lightship; loss of 28 lives. 4,769
Dido (3) 1920 1940 abandoned at Brest on surrender of France, became German Dorpat. 3,554
Domino (1) 1877 1900 sold to Spartan Chief SS Co, Liverpool. 810
Domino (2) 1917 1923 wrecked near Kristiansand. 1,193
Domino (3) 1925 1941 bombed and sunk in Liverpool Docks. 1,396
Domino (4) 1947 1962 sold to South Africa, renamed Ridge. 2,302
Douro 1889 1929 sold to Greece, renamed Kimolos. 2,383
Draco (1) 1882 1905 sold to J. Palmer & Co, London. 1,730
Draco (2) 1922 1941 bombed and sunk at Tobruk. 2,017
Dynamo (1) 1884 1906 sold to Wilsons & North Eastern Railway Shipping Co., 1912 sold to Italy, renamed Unione. 529
Dynamo (2) 1920 1943 mined and sunk in Thames Estuary. 809
Dynamo (3) see Kylebrook.

The Windows (Rendition)

Acts of torture are:
(1) sacred
(2) imperial
(3) excessive
(4) inane

Acts of kindness are:
(1) unbuttoned
(2) transparent
(3) delicious
(4) strange

Acts of pain are:
(1) noble
(2) inevitable
(3) temporary
(4) ashamed

Acts of pleasure are:
(1) non-toxic
(2) sad
(3) ekphrastic
(4) dear

Acts of war are:
(1) pornographic
(2) scintillating
(3) inevitable
(4) unclear

Acts of peace are:
(1) unlikely
(2) emphatic
(3) historical
(4) square

Acts of hatred are:
(1) robust
(2) meteoric
(3) ridiculous
(4) magic

Acts of love are:
(1) soothing
(2) terroristic
(3) brilliant
(4) tragic

Acts of writing are:
(1) superfluous
(2) convincing
(3) nutritious
(4) authentic

Acts of reading are:
(1) regrettable
(2) numinous
(3) fatalistic
(4) contented

Acts of commitment are:
(1) dangerous
(2) canine
(3) recessive
(4) OK

Acts of indifference are:
(1) useful
(2) passionate
(3) feline
(4) everyday

Call for Work: The Arcadia Project


I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless there’s a subway handy or a record store or some sign that people do not totally regret life.
–Frank O’Hara, “Meditations in an Emergency”

Scheduled for publication by Ahsahta Press in May 2012, and edited by Joshua Corey & G.C. Waldrep, The Arcadia Project seeks to explore the relationship between the postmodern and the pastoral in contemporary North American poetry.

In the twenty-first century it is only a short leap from civilization and its discontents—from the violent inequities of the “global village”—to the postmodern pastoral. Postmodern and pastoral: two exhausted and empty cultural signifiers recharged and revivified by their apparent antipathy, united by the logic of mutual and nearly assured destruction. With gas and food prices climbing, with the planet’s accelerated warming, with the contraction of our cheap-energy economy and the rapid extinction of plant and animal species, both the flat world of global capitalism and the green world of fond memory are in the process of vanishing before our eyes. As Frederic Jameson once remarked, “It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.” It is to that question of imagination—dystopian and utopian—that this anthology addresses itself.

Any work that address the pastoral in a postmodern idiom, vocabulary, or context, or vice versa, is welcome. Please send up to 20 pages of poetry, in standard electronic format (PDF, .doc, .docx, .rtf, .wpd) to Josh Corey & G.C. Waldrep at postmodernpastoral@gmail.com. Deadline: 9/1/10.

Please feel free to forward this call to others, post on your blog, etc. We look forward to reading your work.

A Night of Translations

The WordTemple Poetry Series
Saturday, July 17, 7 p.m.
Sebastopol Center for the Arts

Opening Poet: Iris Jamahl Dunkle, author of Inheritance, Finishing Line Press. Dunkle, a resident of Sebastopol, received her Ph.D. in English from Case Western University and MFA in poetry from New York University. Inheritance is her first nationally published collection of poems. Come help her celebrate!

A Night of Translations

JORGE LUIS BORGES presented by Stephen Kessler -- The Sonnets and Poems of the Night. Two books released in April 2010 by Penguin Classics, presented by poet and translator Stephen Kessler. Revered for his magnificent works of fiction and non-fiction, the Argentine master Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986) thought of himself primarily as a poet. The Sonnets is a landmark collection, presenting for the first time in any language the complete sonnets of Borges, more than half of which have been translated into English for the first time. Poems of the Night is an intimate, revelatory collection of Borge's poetic meditations on nighttime, darkness, and the crepuscular world of visions and dreams. This book presents many poems in English for the first time, including his earliest and last poems.

LUIS CERNUDA presented by Stephen Kessler— Desolation of the Chimera (White Pine Press, 2009), translated and presented at WordTemple by Stephen Kessler. Luis Cernuda (1902 - 1963) was a leading member of Spain's legendary Generation of 1927: Lorca, Alberti, Buñuel, Dalí, et. al. Written between 1950 and 1962, the poems in this collection amount to the final poetic testament of one of Spain's most important 20th century poets. Kessler's translation of Desolation of the Chimera won the 2010 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. Previous winners of the award include, among others, W. S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky and Galway Kinnell.

Stephen Kessler is the author of eight books of original poetry, most recently Burning Daylight, and fourteen books of literary translation, including the Lambda Literary Award-winning Written in Water: The Prose Poems of Luis Cernuda (City Lights Books).

BEYOND THE COURT GATE: SELECTED POEMS OF NGUYEN TRAI — with translators and editors Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover (Counterpath Press 2010). While Li Po and other classic Chinese poets mostly found expression through landscape, Vietnamese poet Nguyen Trai (1380 - 1422) wrote about his own life. Tang Dynasty poetry was traditional and polite, but Trai developed a colloquial and personal style. As a result, his poems have the intimacy and immediacy of the everyday.

Nguyen Do writes and translates poetry in Vietnamese and English. Born in 1959, in Ha Tinh Province of Vietnam, he moved to Hanoi as a youth. After taking degrees in Surveying from Hanoi Construction College and in literature from Vinh University, he taught high school in Pleiku, then lived in Ho Chi Minh City where he worked as an editor and reporter for a litrary review, newspapers and magazines. His eleven books of poetry include The Fish Wharf and The Autumn Evening (a collaboration with Thanh Thao); The Empty Space; and New Darkness.

Paul Hoover, winner of the PEN-USA Translation Award for Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin (Omnidawn), is the author of many books of poems, including Sonnet 56 (Les Figues Press 2009); and Poems in Spanish (Omnidawn, 2005). Professor of Creative Writing at SF State, he edited Postmodern American Poetry (W.W. Norton, 1994) and currently curates the poetry reading series at the deYoung Museum of Fine Art in San Francisco.


Beyond the Court Gate Reviewed

Here's the link to a great review by Dylan Suher of Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyen Trai, edited and translated by Nguyen Do and me. The site is The Front Table, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore website. This is one of the country's most amazing bookstores. http://blog.semcoop.com/2010/07/05/beyond-the-court-gate-selected-poems-of-nguyen-trai/


The Buenos Aires poet Esteban Moore has a new blog, alpialdelapalabra, that currently features an essay I wrote for but did not present at a literary conference in Rosario, Argentina, in August, 2007. It's longer and more political than I had remembered. It's difficult not to writhe in your chains, given what has happened since the election of Bush II, and continues to happen despite Obama's good intentions. The essay is available at http://alpialdelapalabra.blogspot.com/2010/06/paul-hoover-la-verdadera-poesia.html. The dignified personage pictured here is Esteban.

Stephen Ratcliffe: Remarks on Color / Sound

Remarks on Color / Sound
Type: Music/Arts - Performance
Date: Sunday, May 16, 2010
Time: 6:00am - 8:10pm
Location: Headlands Center for the Arts
Street: 944 Fort Barry
City/Town: Sausalito, CA

DescriptionRemarks on Color / Sound is a 14-hour piece, which explores collaborative work in a variety of mediums and is based on a reading by Stephen Ratcliffe of his poem by the same title (written between 7.15.05 and 4.8.08 – 1,000 pages in 1,000 consecutive days). Utilizing sound, light, movement and sculpture in an open dialogue with the architecture of the surrounding space, this performance extends investigations into the integration/interaction of human beings and natural landscape begun in our 2008 performance, HUMAN / NATURE, at UCDavis: "the relation between things seen/observed in the natural world and how such things might be made (transcribed/transformed) as works of written (or visual) art."

Remarks on Color / Sound will take place in the Gym Studio at Headlands Center for the Arts, where Thingamajigs’ cofounder Edward Schocker is currently an Artist in Residence. The performance will be held on the same day as the 2009/ 2010 Graduate Fellows Exhibition opening, which takes place in Building 944 (3rd Floor) on the Headlands campus. Headlands Center for the Arts hosts an internationally recognized Artist in Residence program, as well as interdisciplinary public programs, aiming to create dialogue and exchange that build an appreciation for the role of art in society. Find out more at headlands.org.

The Poetry of Forgetting

The memorability of a poem often has to do more with the unique patterns it presents in sound than with its ideation, theme, or imagery in the mind, but those things matter greatly, too. The last line of the complex Hart Crane poem, “At Melville’s Tomb,” “This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps,” remains in the mind because of the paired “a,” “o,” and “e” sounds (fabulous / shadow; shadow / only; and sea / keeps), while the rest of the poem drifts solemnly, and self-importantly, away.

The more a poem can be sung, the more it rhymes, and the better it can be remembered:

Three blind mice! See how they run!
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife.
Did you ever see such a thing in your life
As three blind mice?

The story of the rhyme is nonsensical, leading to the suspicion that its referent is hidden, and, indeed, Wikipedia informs us:

"Attempts to read historical significance into the words have led to the speculation that this musical round was written earlier and refers to Queen Mary I of England blinding and executing three Protestant bishops, but problematically the Oxford martyrs, Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer, were burned at the stake, not blinded. The earliest lyrics do not talk about directly killing the three blind mice and are dated long after Queen Mary died."

A poem is also more memorable if it offers, or seems to offer, moral instruction. “Baa, baa, black sheep” may teach that there is no reward for little boys who cry in the lane, but online research suggests it may have concerned England’s competition in the wool trade with the cities of Bruges and Lille. “Sulky Sue” (“Here’s Sulky Sue, / What shall we do? / Turn her face to the wall / Till she comes to” is ready-made for harsh parents as they lead sulking little girls to a “time out” in the corner. We remember the poem because it frightens or amuses us as moral instruction. Perhaps we remember it because something cuts deeply, as image, urgency, or simply as an absurdity: Emily Dickinson’s strange line about “Doom’s electric Moccasin,” Eliot’s evening lying peacefully “like a patient etherized upon a table,” or Plath’s “I eat men like air.” Memorability has wonderful resources in nonsense and the irrational.

Some poetics, like language poetry, are suspicious of epigrammatic wisdom, finished statements, and the beauty and memorability of the coherent. One processual moment at a time, it is proudly a poetry of forgetting. In language poetry, for instance, coherence lies in the jostling passage of many strands of meaning. Writing from middle to middle rather than beginning to end, it opposes lyric wisdom on the moral grounds that it collaborates with dominant social powers. With its traditional and devotional use of symbols, like the rose, the cross, the rock, gyre, and the river, lyric poetry has ready access to iconic memorability: “Hearts with one purpose alone / Through summer and winter seem / enchanted to a stone / To trouble the living stream” (Yeats, “Easter 1916”). Memorability is also “The falcon cannot hear the falconer”; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by”; Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”; and Stevie Smith’s “The pike is a fish who always has his prey / And this is pretty.” Tell us in satisfying figures what fate is likely to do, and your poem will be memorable and true.

The poetry of forgetting seeks a paradise of the present moment, passing always into the new. The poetry of memorability seeks return and closure. In poetry, it’s difficult not to fall into a memorable rhythm, as the language poet Ron Silliman does in the beginning paragraphs of “Tjanting,” with its repetition of words like “again,” “begin,” and “pen,” and Lyn Hejinian does structurally in “My Life,” using 37 sentences per section and lifting phrases from one poem for the title of another. She also modulates images and memories of her life, albeit in mosaic rather than traditionally narrative fashion. The resulting photographic flashes are the very model of memorability, beyond the language in which they are presented. The tactic of both the Silliman and Hejinian works is similar to that of Impressionism, which favors the smudge, the fragment, oblique & indirect statements, and the point rather than the line. If you find works employing the “new sentence” slippery and hard to remember, try reading them again. Their pleasures come forward each time they’re enacted, in the moment of performance. Hejinian writes in Slowly, “We wait to resemble eventually what we know to be transient.” (26) I understand this to be a postmodern statement of fate. It is saying: we resemble change because change is real, even in us. As we approach death, we begin to resemble it. Suddenly there’s little dissemblance.

Memorability can also come with a single fresh insight, or image, like the Hölderlin line from his great fragment, “Kolomb”: “As when a bell one rings is put out of tune by snow.” Or Auden’s line, in “Musée des Beaux Arts,” about dogs going on with their doggy lives, while “the torturer’s horse / Scratches his innocent behind on a tree.” It’s the memorable line that gets us in trouble when we quote it back to the poet after his or her reading. We didn’t remember it quite right. I used to love to recite Berryman’s Dream Song 14: “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. / After all, sky flashes, the great sea yearns, / we ourselves flash and yearn, / and moreover my mother told me as a boy / (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you ‘re bored / means you have no // Inner Resources.” I always got it a little wrong. The memorability of a poem has little to do with its actual recital; it’s about the delight and profundity, generally, of one particular passage.
Good organization and parallel structure alone do not make a poem memorable. Laura Riding’s “The Map of Places” is succinct, allusive, mysterious, but its wonders lie in syntax and puzzlement, not in figure-ground relations:

The map of places passes.
The reality of paper tears.
Land and water where they are
Are only where they were
When words read here and here
Before ships happened there.

Riding’s language is simple enough, but the fable of the poem’s persuasion requires the working out of a complex syllogism, the pleasure of which is its overwriting of itself. It gets too confusing. Memorability prefers its serpent, its Eve, and its Eden.

Poetry of forgetting can be found among mystics, like the later Paul Celan or the Russian poet Gennady Aygi, who launch so far inward that we arrive at the purity of being itself. Here is Aygi’s “Shudder of a Daisy,” from Field – Russia (1982 / 2007):

little cloud! —

would once the moment
of my death thus be shaken —

(what then
shall I choose
more dear)

wind — jewel-like — fleeting! —

as in flight
awakened in me — first of all:

freshness! —

of absence of memory


Aygi explains in an interview that in a “committed” poetry of acts, he “could sense no poetic truth, no ‘real,’ or living truth, in the ways these ‘acts’ were committed” (Aygi 3). He began instead to seek “an ever increasing immersion in a kind of self-preserving unity of what I can best describe as something “undiminishing-abiding” (3). In his refusal of action, he turned to silence, quietness, and a “single sleep-world, which encompassed both sleep and waking” (4). It was, in effect, poetry of spiritual consciousness, of things as they are, not in physical space as much as the entire body, or “unrepeatable temple,” of being. It’s not about the use of memory or going to get a shoeshine and it’s 1959 and you don’t know the friends who will feed you. It’s about the realization of “the shining” of a “single-abiding” that can touch paper (Aygi 11). The poem is a map to that experience. You arrive at the place where freshness is the absence of memory. There is the wind, the daisy, and your angle of illumination.


Aygi, Gennady. Field – Russia. Translated by Peter France. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1982 / 2007.

Hejinian, Lyn. Slowly. Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 2002.

Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyen Trai

Nguyen Trai (1380-1442) was one of two great poets of Vietnamese history. The Vietnamese poet Nguyen Do and I have translated roughly 150 of his poems from Han (ancient Chinese) and Nom (ancient Vietnamese Chinese), to be published in the above title by Counterpath Press of Denver in late May. The book can be pre-ordered through bookstore websites like Barnes & Noble, also of course at Amazon.com.

A second volume of our Nguyen Trai translation, Returning to Con Son, was recently published by Saigon Cultural Publishers. A beautiful coffee table book, it consists of 30 poems in Han, along with beautiful photographs by the book's editor, the poet Nguyen Duy. This book is unusual in that it provides generations of text, beginning with the 40-figure Han, including Romanized versions in ancient and modern Vietnamese, and ending with our English text. The print run was limited to 700, so I'm not sure how available the book is outside Vietnam, and many have already been sold through a subscription arrangement.

Here are three works from Beyond the Court Gate, the first two in Nom, the last in Han:

I build a little house in the way of nature.
It’s not much, for perfunctory living only.
No windowsill: wind cleans the floor like a sweeping broom.
The moon is close to the door: no need to light a lamp.
Don’t care if dinner is rice with salty pickled vegetables.
Don’t want clothes of embroidered brocade.
To catch its cool shade, I lean against a tree.
The little house whistles a little joy to me.

Standing to Watch the Afternoon I

Faint smoke and light rain make the afternoon look vague.
The water’s color and sky’s light make them seem both real and unreal.
The universe already has a pure, living view of things.
Because the ocean cares for me, it creates a new painting!

Written in Autumn Moonlight

Waking up in a silent room, I lie alone thinking.
On the altar, incense burns down completely, lifting away my stress.
The quietness shocks me: how much has happened to the earth and sky!
This time of leisure is worth a thousand ounces of gold.
The Confucian’s habit is simple and real life disloyal;
So I happily wander this heaven, breathing belief’s perfume.
I’ve been reading all the books, see nothing left to do.
I see instead the old plum, where I sit to play my jade flute.

Paul Celan: Call for Work

Please note G.C. Waldrep's CALL FOR WORK for an anthology of writings about Paul Celan. The deadline for submissions is 2/5/2010.


Seeking work for an anthology of creative, critical, and/or personal responses to the life and work of Paul Celan, to be published by Marick Press (www.marickpress.com) in September 2010. Work already slated for inclusion in the anthology includes pieces by Susan Stewart, Marjorie Perloff, Jerome Rothenberg, Andrew Joron, Ingeborg Bachman (translated by Pierre Joris), Jean Daive (translated by Rosmarie Waldrop), Anne Carson, Nikolai Popov, Sawako Nakayasu, and Dan Beachy-Quick.

All work should be in English (or accompanied by an English translation, if the original is in a language other than English). Verse and/or prose up to 25 pp. accepted. While unpublished work is fine, we would be equally delighted to read previously-published work. In the case of previously-published work, please include citation(s) of prior publication.

Please send submissions as e-mail attachments to gcwaldrep gmail.com. Deadline: 2/15/10.