To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Translating André Breton: Robert Duncan & David Antin



[Going through some old files recently I came across two translations by Robert Duncan of poems by the Surrealist overlord & master-poet André Breton.  That brought me back too to a series of translations from Breton that David Antin composed & that I published sometime in the 1960s.  An old theme of mine – & ours – that I still cherish is the relation of the second great wave of American experimental poetry to antecedents not only “in the American grain” – as then widely promulgated – but in a direct line from forerunners in other languages & cultures.  For myself, writing & living in the same late-twentieth-century America, there was a sense that all of us, as poets, shared a past & future with forerunners & contemporaries across a startling range of times & places. This came at a time when we were discovering ourselves also as American poets with a new language in which to write & a new perspective – a series of new perspectives – that we could write from.  As I look at Duncan & Antin then, both of them taking pleasure in the work of our great French predecessor, I feel again the sense of what I’ve written of elsewhere as our French connection, & that connection & others I take to be as vital for us as any rooted solely on our native shore. (J.R.)]  

dreams                                                                                                                                             translated by Robert Duncan

But the light returns
the pleasure of smoking
The spider-fairy of the cinders in points of blue and red
is never content with her mansions of Mozart.
The wound heals cvcrything uses its ingenuity to make
     itself
recognized I speak and beneath your face the cone of
     shadow
turns which from the depths of the sea has calld the pearls
the eyelids, the lips, inhale the day
the arena empties itself
one of the birds in flying away
did not think to forget the straw and the thread
hardly has a crowd thought it fit to stir
when the arrow flies
a star nothing but a star lost in the fur of the night

New York, October 1943 

vigilance                                                                                                                                                      translated by David Antin                                                                                                                 

In Paris the tower of Saint Jacques careening
Like a sunflower
Nearly collides with the Seine
Its shadow slides imperceptibly among the tugs
At this moment in my sleep
I steer silent toward my couch
I rise and set the fire
That will destroy the remains of my extorted consent
The furniture gives place to animals of the same size
With friendly faces
Lions whose manes consume the chairs
Dogfish whose white bellies absorb the last shudder
     of the sheets
I see myself in the hour of love of blue eyelids
Burning in my turn I see the solemn receptacle of
     nothing
That was my body
Excavated by the patient beaks of the fire-ibises
And at the end I pass into the ark

Indifferent to the dragging steps of life’s remote
     pedestrians
The spines of the sun fall golden
Across the white pines of the rain
I hear the tearing of human underwear like a great
     leaf
Under the nail of absence and presence who connive together
All of the ways are exhausted there remains only a scrap of
     perfumed lace
The husk of a lace perfectly shaped like a breast
I touch nothing now but the heart of things I hold the thread
     in my hands 

windward                                                                                                                                           translated by Robert Duncan
Jersey Guernsey by times somber and illustrious
restore to the flood two cups overflowing with melody,
the one whose name is on all lips,
the other which has been in no way profaned,
and this one discloses the imprint of a scene, familial and
     anodyne
beneath the lamp an adolescent reads aloud to an aged dame
but what fervor on the part of each and in him what transports
however little she had been the friend of Fabre d'Olivet
and he had been calld to exalt himself with the name of
     Saint-Yves d'Alveydre and the octopus in his crystalline
retreat gives way in whorls and ringing sounds
to the Hebrew alphabet
I know what were the poetic directions yesterday,
they are no longer valid for today.
The little songs go on to die their natural death.
I persuade you to put on your hats before going.
It will be better no longer to be satisfied with your thin soup
brewd up in measure in blinking rooms
while justice is renderd by three quarters of beef,
once for all Poetry must rise again from the ruins
in the robes and the glory of Esclarmonde
and reclaim aloud the cause of Esclarmonde
for there can be no peace for the soul of Esclarmonde
in our hearts and the words die that are not
good nails for the hooves of the horse of Esclarmonde
before the precipice where the edelweiss keeps the breath
     of Esclarmonde
the night's vision has been something it is a question now
of extending from the physical to the moral
in which its empire will be without limits.
The images have pleased me, it was the art
wrongly decried for burning its candle at both ends,
but everything is much more wick, the complicities are
     otherwise learned and dramatic.
As you will see I have just seen an eskimo mask
it's the head of a grey reindeer under the snow
realistic in conception except that between the right ear                                                       
     and eyes lies in wait the tiny rose-colord hunter
just as he is supposed to appear in the distance to the
     animal.
But fitted with cedar and a metal without alloy
the marvelous blade
cut out in waves on an egyptian
back in the reflection of the fourteenth century of our era
alone will express it
by one of the animated figures of the tarot of the days
     to come,
the hand in the act of taking at the very moment of
     letting go
quicker than at the game of la mourre* and of l'amour 

*La mourre—a game of flashing the hand and asking "How many fingers do I hold up?" R.D.
 

a man and woman absolutely white
translated by David Antin 

At the depths of the parasol I see the marvelous prostitutes
On the side near the street lamps their gowns are the color
      of polished wood
They are walking a great piece of wallpaper
At which one cannot look without that choking feeling about 
    the heart of  ancient floors in buildings being demolished
Where a slab of marble lies fallen from the fireplace
And a skein of chains is tangled in the mirrors
A great instinct toward combustion rises from the street
     where they walk
Like scorched flowers
Their distant eyes raising a gale of stones
As they sink motionless to the center of the whirlpool
Nothing equals for me the sense of their useless thought
The freshness of the gutters where their little boots bathe
     the shadows of their beaks
The reality of their wrists of fresh cut hay into which they
     disappear
I see their breasts which seize a point out of this profound night

Where the time for lying down and the time for getting up are
     the only precise measures of life
I see their breasts that are stars over waves
Their breasts in which the invisible blue milk cries as ever

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jack Foley: from “Under the Influence,” Definitions & Prelude

 

[The following is from a remarkable essay by Jack Foley, which presents a much needed counter proposition to ideas about “influence” & its “anxieties” that have been present without sufficient opposition in a prominent wing of American criticism & literary studies.  The complete essay continues at full throttle & in a meaningfully personal way to a discussion of the influence of the work of three canonical or near-canonical writers – Thomas Grey, James Joyce & Robert Duncan – on Foley’s own early work as a solid contributor to our developing sense of a new/old poetry & poetics.  The larger essay has yet to be published, and in the interim I will post it, as needed, section by section, on Poems and Poetics.  (J.R.)]
 
“I derive from every known source.”
—Robert Duncan at a lecture 

“Fluid moves in Robert Duncan’s favored sense of literary derivation,
a word whose etymology indicates the channeling of influence into a new flow of water.”
—Peter O’Leary, “Talking Cosmos: Influencing Ronald Johnson,
                                                                Deriving Robert Duncan” 

INFLUENCE: Here are two definitions/etymologies from the Internet: 

Late Middle English: from Old French, or from medieval Latin influentia ‘inflow,’ from Latin influere, from in- ‘into’ + fluere ‘to flow.’ The word originally had the general sense ‘an influx, flowing matter,’ also specifically (in astrology) ‘the flowing in of ethereal fluid (affecting human destiny).’ The sense ‘imperceptible or indirect action exerted to cause changes’ was established in Scholastic Latin by the 13th century, but not recorded in English until the late 16th century.
—Google
*
Late 14c., an astrological term, “streaming ethereal power from the stars acting upon character or destiny of men,” from Old French influence “emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny” (13c.), also “a flow of water,” from Medieval Latin influentia “a flowing in” (also used in the astrological sense), from Latin influentem (nominative influens), present participle of influere “to flow into,” from in- “into, in, on, upon” (see in- (2)) + fluere “to flow” (see fluent). Meaning “exercise of personal power by human beings” is from mid-15c.; meaning “exertion of unseen influence by persons” is from 1580s (a sense already in Medieval Latin, for instance Aquinas). Under the influence “drunk” first attested 1866.
             —Online Etymological Dictionary 

One thinks of the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 8): “Highest good is like water.” 

*
It’s the world—life!—that “flows into us,” so that “influence” is inescapable. A walk down the street involves multiple influences: trees, people, vehicles, air—all the populace of our sensoria. But the emphasis in this piece is on literary influence—perhaps even on what Harold Bloom famously referred to as “the anxiety of influence.” Wikipedia: 

(Quoting Harold Bloom) “Poetic influence, as I conceive it, is a variety of melancholy or the anxiety-principle.” A new poet becomes inspired to write because he has read and admired the poetry of previous poets; but this admiration turns into resentment when the new poet discovers that these poets whom he idolized have already said everything he wishes to say. The poet becomes disappointed because he “cannot be Adam early in the morning. There have been too many Adams, and they have named everything.” 

In order to evade this psychological obstacle, the new poet must convince himself that previous poets have gone wrong somewhere and failed in their vision, thus leaving open the possibility that he may have something to add to the tradition after all. The new poet’s love for his heroes turns into antagonism towards them: “Initial love for the precursor's poetry is transformed rapidly enough into revisionary strife, without which individuation is not possible”…Bloom attempted to trace the psychological process by which a poet broke free from his precursors to achieve his own poetic vision. He drew a sharp distinction between "strong poets" who perform “strong misreadings” of their precursors, and "weak poets" who simply repeat the ideas of their precursors as though following a kind of doctrine. 

Bloom’s Oedipal theory of the literary tradition has been criticized by many—brilliantly by Jerome Rothenberg, who, significantly, is as Jewish as Harold Bloom claims to be. In any case, it is surely the critic, not the poet, who is likely to feel “anxiety” in the face of someone else’s writing, the critic who will be afflicted by the sense that his “precursor” (the poet the critic is writing about) has “already said everything he wishes to say.” Bloom’s notion—which admittedly produces some insights in some cases—is probably an instance of criticism as unintentional (even scandalous) autobiography. Bloom’s friend Paul de Man formulated the notion of “blindness and insight”—the idea that every authorial insight carries with it a secret blindness, apparent to others but not to the author. Perhaps Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” holds true not for the poet but only for the critic—and particularly for the academic critic whose livelihood depends upon his finding something new to say about authors whose works are a given. 

Further: we tend, like Bloom, to think of “influence” as a one-way street: there is the precursor, the “influencer,” and the influenced, and Bloom postulates an Oedipal, father/son struggle between them. But I would suggest that it is only because of certain changes in ourselves that we are able to experience what the precursor has to offer: that is, the precursor is “discovered” only because we are looking for an embodiment of things that are already happening within us—things that precede the discovery of the precursor. As Voltaire said of God, “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” The same may be true of the precursor. It is possible that we already are the “precursor” when we narcissistically discover him “outside ourselves.” He is a mirror, not an antagonist. 1/
__________ 

1.  But cf. Hegel’s description, in The Phenomenology of Mind, of the encounter between two self-consciousnesses:

Self-consciousness has before it another self-consciousness...This has a double significance. First it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as an other being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real, but sees its own self in the other. 

            It must cancel this its other...First it must set itself to sublate the other independent being, in order thereby to become certain of itself as true being, secondly, it thereupon proceeds to sublate its own self, for this other is itself...Each must aim at the death of the other, as it risks its own life thereby; the other’s reality is presented to the former as an external other, as outside itself; it must cancel that externality.
__________ 

Bloom’s Oedipal struggle certainly seems relevant here. As Hegel describes it, the struggle is an attempt on the part of each self-consciousness, faced with its own reflection, to show “that it is fettered to no determinate existence, that it is not bound at all by the particularity everywhere characteristic of existence as such.” Hegel’s story, like Bloom’s, is compelling in many ways, but it is not the only possible story. His fundamental understanding of existence is a version of war: thesis (an existing army); antithesis (attack by another army); synthesis (the peace treaty). 

But, if de Man is right, it is also possible (even likely) that I too am “blind,” and that someone other than myself will have to point it out to me. 

Under the Influence/Being in the World.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Readings & Launches April to November 2015

 

[In line with the recent publication of Poems for the Millennium, volume 5: Barbaric Vast & Wild and other new writings in English & other languages, the following readings & launches are scheduled for the coming year.  I will be posting & re-posting updates for these & others as the year progresses. (J.R.)]

Participant, Poesia en Voz Alta (festival), Mexico D.F.,
April 14-19, 2015. 

Talk & reading on El Corno Emplumado, Centro Cultural
 Universitario Tlatelolco, Mexico, D.F., April 15, 2015. 

Reading/seminar, Mesa College, San Diego, 7:00 p.m.,
April 29, 2015.
 
Reading & launch, D.G. Wills Books, La Jolla, May 2, 2015.

Reading & pre-launch, Page Poetry Parlor, New York,
May 17, 2015. 

Reading, Woodward Line Poetry Series, Detroit, June 17,
2015.

Reading & launch, Kelly House, University of Pennsylvania,
September 10, 2015.

Reading & talk, Outside & Subterranean Poetry, Poets House,
New York, October 1, 2015.

Reading & launch, St Marks Poetry Project, New York
(with John Bloomberg-Rissman, Charles Bernstein, Pierre
Joris, Nicole Peyrafitte, Jennifer Bartlett, Cecilia Vicuña),
October 14, 2015.

Reading, University of Arizona Poetry Center, Tucson,
Arizona, October 27, 2015.

Keynote speaker, ALTA (American Literary Translators
Association) annual conference, Tucson, October 28-30,
2015. 

Book launch & reading, City Lights, San Francisco (with
Lyn Hejinian, David Meltzer, John Bloomberg-Rissman,
Jack & Adele Foley), November 5, 2015.
 
Book launch & reading, Beyond Baroque (with Will
Alexander, Douglas Messerli, Christine Wertheim,
John Bloomberg-Rissman), Los Angeles, November 8,
2015. 

Reading & launch, New Writing Series, University of
California, San Diego, November 11, 2015.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lyn Hejinian: Turbulent Thinking


Every work of art attests to lived experience and reminds us that another human has been here. Echoes aren’t inherently empty. The emotional encounter — the felt awareness of something other that is essentially a memory, but one emitted, as it were, by another — is crucial for our consciousness of history and a key to the good life. But it is in this way, too, that Death makes its appearance in a work of art. I’ll get to the quandary of the good life later. Inadequately, but that may be for the best. In Goya’s great painting ‘The Third of May 1808,’ we see before us a moment just before an execution. Already three lifeless bodies are lying in pools of blood on the ground, and now, kneeling beside them but with his hands held high (some critics say ‘like Christ,’ but I don’t think so — why is ‘like Christ’ an enhancement of who he is?), is the next victim — a powerful man, with a mustache and thick curly hair, wearing a startlingly white blouse and trousers as yellow as sunlight. The sky is black; this is happening at night, or in Hell. With a look as much of sorrow as of fear or anger, the powerful man glares at the men, factota of the firing squad. There are at least five of them, left foot forward and right foot back, faces hidden (they are wearing shakos and turned slightly away from us), the long barrels of their rifles raised and thrust forward, jabbing inhumanity, or dishumanity, into the middle of the painting. On the ground, at the center of the scene, and casting luminous light on the man who is about to be shot, is a large square lantern — it must be at least two feet tall and equally wide. It’s a yellow lantern, the color of the condemned man’s pants. Its light casts forth the white of the condemned man’s shirt. Picasso is reported to have said, ‘The lantern is Death. Why? We don’t know.’ Reconciling the good life (whatever we might mean by that) with mortality is one of humanity’s many failed undertakings. Slaughter, assassination, war, injustice — or sheer immiseration — are the most prevalent forms that overtake this reconciliation.

I am writing this at home, three doors down from the corner of College Avenue and Russell Street. In my home state currently (California), there are 727 individuals on death row, awaiting execution. In Florida, which has the next largest population of condemned men and women, there are 413. Life shudders at the edges of imagination, its aperture, perhaps its exit. The sun is taking up another of its innumerable positions. A few healthy clouds seem immobile below it, but in fact they are simply being pulled along as the earth rolls slowly clockwise. If it went any faster I would never get this paragraph finished. Some of the persons on death row must regard themselves as all but dead; they can’t easily regard themselves as living life. Their situation is one of acute tension, but it’s devoid of enlivening intensity. Facing execution, some acquiesce, some resist, some feel contrition and apologize, some deny wrong-doing. All have a gray, limited space to stare into. Most have a lawyer. Some of those lawyers long to be acknowledged as the spiritual source of a prisoner’s repentance — which the lawyers imagine as the threshold of freedom (of which immortality is the ultimate condition); they are not lacking in imagination, but the prisoner is at their mercy. By offering repentance while rejecting his or her lawyer, the death row prisoner exercises what in many cases is the only power he or she has left. To shift context requires context-consciousness, to recuperate experience from the condition of postness in its abject manifestation as, paradoxically, pastless. Living presences — bodies (human, rock, pine, pigeon, desk, delphinium) — together broaden the shadow in which life is possible. What’s needed, then, is an unbordering. Something including but beyond the evaluative or juridical, and something more than aesthetic, certainly, and more than nocturnal (obscure and dreamy), and something beyond synthesis, and perhaps slightly paranormal — but if that, then why not also paranoid? Well, because paranoia evaporates, or becomes unthinkable, in the processes of an outspread, when it’s impossible to affix motives and orient them to oneself, narcissistically, as it were. Paranoid subjectivity is as abyssal as fear, swallowing everything up. I experienced something that seems to me to have demonstrated a reversal of narcissism. It was in a recent dream — and just before dawn of a Monday morning. I’d fallen asleep to the looping through my thoughts of the phrase ‘I aspired to something blasphemous’ — I, who am not even capable of brutal honesty! I can’t forgive humanity its physical monstrosity, but mostly because I can’t bring myself to openly acknowledge it. A stocky black dog comes around the corner in front of Lululemon Athletica, trotting beside a man who says its name is Snake, ‘because it is blatantly phallic.’ The woman with him contradicts him blandly: ‘her name is Buttercup.’ The dog shrinks, condenses, becoming a frog. It leaps at me, scattering water, and becomes an armadillo. In this form, it evokes the word peccadillo. Then it explodes, in a burst of multi-colored floral fireworks — a pyrotechnic peony. Tolstoy, on May 12 1856, after years of using his diary principally to castigate himself and draft rules for self-improvement, writes ‘the best way to true happiness in life is to have no rules, but to throw out from yourself in all directions like a spider a prehensile web of love and catch in it everything that comes along — an old lady, a child, a woman, or a policeman.’ In this sudden effusion he deploys a metaphor that is both predatory and radiant to express a burst of charitable feeling. His purpose is not predation, however, but embrace. To connect is to accept, and to remember, but with centrifugal force. Tolstoy’s moment of love, insofar as it casts all of itself outward, resembles a moment of dying. It is the opposite of encyclopedic; it’s discyclopedic. It’s a moment in which time — even temporality itself — loses its coherence. We could liken it to the sound of a piano chord, its sun-blasted sphericity and experimental off-rhyming, whose effects pulse and oscillate as if to remind us that espousal of art for art’s sake doesn’t tell us what art’s sake is. Aestheticism at this level brings with it a kind of madness, dazzling as an ornament. It adds something allegorical to what it produces. And that allegory’s value lies in its vitality, not in its beauty; it plays out socially, introducing new comparisons and thus new conditions, new criteria, new ways of seeing one thing as another. And, as T.J. Clark reminds us, ‘[W]ildness and otherness are always just there in the world […] — part of our ordinary nonidentity, part of everyday life.’ There’s no real need for us to supplement our perceptions, they receive our additions in an instant. Living things can arrange themselves into pictures as much as pictures can depict living things. Or, to put it another way, living things may serve as signs, and — in protest actions, for example — as signs for pictures, arrayed in an indexical spin.

Alphabet, use of apple in
Barrel, rotten apple in
Code, alpha for apple in
Dapple, apple rhymes with
Eden, apple not really the fruit in
Fall, apple falsely figures in man’s
Gloss, apple red lip
Horse, apple a treat for a
Index, apples an early fruit in
Jelly, mint apple
Kitsch, apple pie as American
Lore, apple in folk
Meter, apple in trochaic
Nostril, apple-like tip of the
Oranges, apples and
Pie, apple
Quality, Red Delicious apples of uneven
Ready, apples in autumn are
Seed, Johnny Apple
Tomato, love apple another name for
Unctuousness, apples misused to express
Vigor, apples said to increase
Witch, apple used to poison Snow White by
Xanadu, incense of apples not unlikely in
Ylang-ylang, fragrant custard-apple tree called the
Zarathustra, eagle brings a sweet-scented rosy apple to

A cold wind pushes against the northward progress of the occasional pedestrian, a plastic wrapper slips past a parking meter and disappears under a red car. In Minima Moralia, Adorno remarks, ‘To happiness the same applies as to truth: one does not have it, but is in it.’ But what if the truth one is in — the truth of one’s situation or of one’s entire epoch — is an untruth (a lie, a fabrication, a myth, or a lack of truth altogether; not just a figment of false consciousness but the very condition that produces it? Certainly such a truth-of-one’s-time would be an unhappiness. Adorno’s aphorism, then, with a slight adjustment (and added poignancy) would assert that to unhappiness the same applies as to untruth: one does not have it, but is in it. It’s not the wind but the sun that expands the neighborhood through which vehicles, pedestrians, pets, children, residents, bugs, birds, visitors, bacteria, move in their efforts at perfection. The dark of night expands the neighborhood, too. ‘It was dark, the sidewalk was going fast, then it turned into a bunch of kids, and everything exploded,’ says a fictional detective (let’s call him Connie Donegan), and his friend (Nate) looks at Connie’s profile. ‘That’s what the witness says,’ Connie continues. ‘Her words. Bunny Victoria Zander, age 17, white. She was bicycling home from a party.’ In the background, like markings on the face of a boulder but more fleetingly interpretable, are the sounds of a speeding motorcycle, a jackhammer, a crow, a pedestrian’s laughter, a day laborer tugging open a bag of tortilla chips. At times the human world can barely hold together, but small patterns of interrelated events circulate through it. E orders another beer, L pats his arm, D goes to pee. As Michael Fried notes, ‘[I]n the mode of everydayness not only is the whole not greater than the sum of the parts, it is also not exactly what we tend to think of as a whole (or indeed as a sum […]).’Art historians generally seem to be better at seeing the quiddities of everyday life than literary critics, who read into depictions of it coherences that are essentially irrelevant to the everyday. Apertures expand, sprawl over the edges of a frame. Thinking generates turmoil, something entirely different from entropy, it doesn’t settle and it doesn’t resolve, unless briefly, so the thinker can take a breather. Meanwhile, in the thinking, tension builds. An excess of spirit suffuses the body, it contorts the face, which is seen to convulse, either in laughter or in grief. Some human feels it in the stomach — a tightening, reflux, pain in the solar plexus. Some cat wakes suddenly. The cat launches its mouth at its haunch, licking, nibbling (affectionately, it seems). A horse shies, bucks, veers, and drops its head to graze. Deer, reclining in a meadow, leap to their feet and flee. How do I release tension? Not very well. A glass of wine. Currently, despite my sympathy for Tolstoy’s charitable impulse, I could not readily include a policeman in any ‘prehensile web of love’ I might cast. Though we feel liberated at the conventional end of a fairy tale (‘and they lived happily ever after’), we are aware of anxiety lurking along the fraying edges of ‘ever after,’ where existence continues beyond the scope of what’s told, and perhaps beyond the scope of what can be told. Goethe’s last words were, so they say, ‘More light.’ I could imagine a variant of these: ‘More sleep.’ But those are mere words, and a translation, at that, and not even last words, as more words have followed since, including those that proclaim them ‘last.’ Mercilessly.
_________

Goya’s painting ‘The Third of May 1808′ has a detailed exegesis at its Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_of_May_1808

Artist: Francisco Goya; Year: 1814; Type: Oil on canvas; Dimensions: 268 cm × 347 cm (106 in × 137 in); Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Copies of the artwork may be found on the Internet.
__________

Published originally in Journal of Poetics Research http://poeticsresearch.com/?article=lyn-hejinian-turbulent-thinking.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ariel Resnikoff: A New Poem from “Avoidances,” with author’s note & commentary

[Ariel Resnikoff is best known at this point for his translations from the Yiddish poetry of Mikhl Likht & others, but with “Avoidances” he clearly sets out as a composer of poems in his own right & in a line as well with other poets with whom he shares a name.  His Likht translations & his writings on Likht & Zukofsky have appeared several times on Poems and Poetics, & he has been resident since last September in the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, where his good works continue. (J.R.)]

Teachings of the Magic Kohl-Rabi

: Aleph

No place
                        but
  constellation;

psephos matter—

ambient                             constant            
 tentative            suspension

—a substance fixed. For            

fluent thought
it orders 
chaos into things

the magic Kohl-Rabi speaks:

 ex          |             peri       |             ment

from danger in
-to experience.

& the question of not
whether it is 
or isn’t 
but if you can see by it.

The glowing speech made
a sea

-faring people
go blind

from  Ellis Island  
to Palestine   

out of necessity

by law of broken mirror 
made all things true

we can-not read
to
babel.


: Beys

Still or text
or local
or imported
exported
four or five 
oil sketches
on paper
leaving Athens. Those

copies
of reproductions
were the “tr” b/w
ship & water

‘s language
facsimile:


fat chance.
My avoidance
says the Kohl
shall be  
              
the cut.


: Giml

4 breads,
4 ways  
               I’m fed 
                             
                              -- the thick, coarse
lower stuff
in upper foods called 
forward --  
                              thinner than
thin.

Grinded ash (from gold)
thrown in 

w/ holy 
                              water 
raised
my body 

drunk on bullion  
               dust.   

5 Prepositions 

1 present aim
‘s to avoid
the fork’s

language
wants  

weird
what it asks
                              for
language

 breaks
a
part
 
things it forgets
in memory
               or
basic utterance

2 actions
in circle I

changed  
by hand

coordinations
my mouth &

doubled me

3 me’s
I I am am  
 speeching

uncovered
stabbed on the gold
-en prongs 

my presence
entails

4 lives tell
in skin

blood

bone

asking, demanding
ordering

5 gates
from simple
to most
vague statements

command   
a past
-future
body for
bidding

open-closed
exits on
each
(end) 

[author’s note.  The title of the cycle, Avoidances, has multiple connotations across English-Yinglish-Yiddish-Hebrew. In English, "avoiding" solidity, conclusion, paraphrase; producing meaning which does not close on itself but opens outward onto multiple potentials; the avoid-dance of never settling on both feet at once for very long. In this way, I'm interested also in a legacy of nomadic poetry, both modern Jewish & pre-islamic Qasida, which is always on the move, tho not linearly, but, rather, by a process of encircling. In Hebrew "Avoda"; in Yinglish & Yiddish, "Avoyda": understood in modern terms as "work" either in the external world or on the internal self; in the ancient context, Avo(y)da as sacrifice, a ceremony of giving away something precious to God. Also associated with "avo(y)da-zara" or idol worship: sacrifice to the wrong source. Avoidances as a process of vast & contradictory containment, multilingual meaning, which is constantly pivoting toward plurality.

The Magic Kohl-Rabi, whose teachings begin the cycle & reappear thru-out,  also crosses a number of language/meaning boundaries. From a Germanic standpoint, a "Cabbage-Turnip" vegetable; From a Hebraic vantage, the Kohl (=voice) of the Rabi (=Rabbi, sage, elder). The idea of playing on the name came first from my glee at stumbling upon the kabbalistically-infused artichoke & emerald lettuces of Duncan's "What Do I Know of the Old Lore." I find something extremely exciting & powerful in Duncan's ability to attach spiritual/mythic potency to things as banal, but also, as essential, as garden vegetables.  The Kohlrabi is a favorite among the group of poets I spent time with in Israel/Palestine, especially the American Hebrew poet, Harold Schimmel, who ceremoniously prepares & eats it daily & would often comment to me about its unique characteristics. The most important aspect of the Kohlrabi for Schimmel (who, at times, speaks thru the MK"R in the poems) is that the vegetable is a root that takes on visible scars when it is cut from the ground. Its skin tells a story then, (the first taste is with your eyes!) of a cut, thru the strange & beautiful scarring patterns that manifest. The poems in Avoidances are all dealing in some way with the implications of "cutting" -- from place, history, language, etc. -- & the multifarious ways these cuttings become scarred (or scored). The Magic Kohl-Rabi is the muse of the cut: not a singular voice but a constellation of teachings which speaks to the poetics & aesthetics of dis-location. (A.R.)]