On Poetry and Culture Shock

Other people\'s poetry

Young, modern Spanish poets (insert sarcasm here)

I'm doing an experiment. I'm reading all the antologies and compilations of poetry by young, modern Spanish poets. Most of them are from the South. I have spoken very often (here , and here, and here) of my opinion of the current trends in local poetry. I often sound as if I have something against the poets themselves; I don't. I do have something against unoriginality, pretentiousness, and poems that are ugly and/or gratuituously hard to understand. So, I'm reading all the accumulated books and booklets that I have had lying around for years. I've had to read 30 poems by 25 writers to find someone that I think worth sharing (Scroll down for the translation). This is from Pablo García Casado, a widely published poet. All I will say against it is that I don't like his omission of punctuation signs: there was one e. e. cummings, the one and only, and I don't see a need to resurrect the irritating cummings-like tendency to forget about punctuation. In any case, what a poem. What a slap on the face. What a control of words. I do love a bit of cruelty once in a while.


como un tornado que pasara lentamente
la vida esparció los objetos por las cuatro
esquinas de este mapa objetos

de escaso valor souvenirs bolígrafos gastados
transistores sin pilas y prendas prendas como esa falda

tirada por el suelo
recuerdo el día que la compraste ¿qué es esto? no
no voy a ponérmela es demasiado corta cien mil veces

en cócteles en verbenas en domingos estúpidos en casa
bailando para ti sólo para ti cien mil veces me la puse
sin bragas sin nada debajo como tú me pedías y ahora ves

tirada por el suelo
se la pone luisa para jugar con las amigas

si vieras cómo ha crecido en pocos meses


like a tornado passing by slowly
life threw around the objects to the four
corners of this map objects

of little value mementoes empty pens
radios without batteries and clothes clothes like that skirt

lying on the floor
i remember the day you bought it what's that? no
i'm not going to wear it it's too short a hundred thousand times

at cocktails at parties on stupid sundays at home
dancing for you only for you a hundred thousand times i wore it
without underwear nothing underneath as you asked me and now see

lying on the floor
luisa wears it to play with her friends

you should she how much she's grown on the last few months 


How To Write a Political Poem by Taylor Mali.

I first heard, rather than read, this poem. It's slam, a genre that tends to be political and takes place halfway between rap and plain old poetry recitation. I found the message very strong, with this ruthlessly bleak mixture of actual political protest and satire of creative trends. Read aloud for best effect.

However it begins, it's gotta be loud
and then it's gotta get a little bit louder.
Because this is how you write a political poem
and how you deliver it with power.
Mix current events with platitudes of empowerment.
Wrap it up in rhyme or rhyme it up in rap until it sounds true.
Glare until it sinks in.
Because somewhere in Florida, votes are still being counted.
I said somewhere in Florida, votes are still being counted!
See, that's the Hook, and you gotta' have a Hook.
More than the look, it's the hook that is the most important part.
The hook has to hit and the hook's gotta fit.
Hook's gotta hit hard in the heart.
Because somewhere in Florida, votes are still being counted.
And Dick Cheney is peeing all over himself in spasmodic delight.
Make fun of politicians, it's easy, especially with Republicans
like Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, and . . . Al Gore.

Create fatuous juxtapositions of personalities and political philosophies
as if communism were the opposite of democracy,
as if we needed Darth Vader, not Ralph Nader.
Peep this: When I say "Call," you all say, "Response."
Call! Response! Call! Response! Call!
Amazing Grace, how sweet the—
Stop in the middle of a song that everyone knows and loves.
This will give your poem a sense of urgency.
Because there is always a sense of urgency in a political poem.
There is no time to waste!
Corruption doesn't have a curfew,
greed doesn't care what color you are
and the New York City Police Department
is filled with people who wear guns on their hips
and carry metal badges pinned over their hearts.
Injustice isn't injustice it's just in us as we are just in ice.
That's the only alienation of this alien nation
in which you either fight for freedom
or else you are free and dumb!

And even as I say this somewhere in Florida, votes are still being counted.
And it makes me wanna beat box!
Because I have seen the disintegration of gentrification
and can speak with great articulation
about cosmic constellations, and atomic radiation.
I've seen D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation
but preferred 101 Dalmations.
Like a cross examination, I will give you the explanation
of why SlamNation is the ultimate manifestation
of poetic masturbation and egotistical ejaculation.
And maybe they are still counting votes somewhere in Florida,
but by the time you get to the end of the poem it won't matter anymore.
Because all you have to do is close your eyes,
lower your voice, and end by saying:
the same line three times,
the same line three times,
the same line, three times.

Da igual cómo empiece, tiene que hablar muy alto
Y entonces tiene que ser un poco más alto
Porque así es como se escribe un poema político,
Y así es como lo recitas con energía.
Mezcla noticias de actualidad con topicazos sobre tomar el poder.
Envuélvelo en rimas, o rapéalo, hasta que parezca cierto.
Mira al público fijamente hasta que absorban la idea.
Porque en algún lugar de Florida, aún están contando votos.
¿¡e dicho que en algún lugar de Florida aún están contando votos!
¿Ves? Ese es el gancho, porque necesitas uno.
Más que tus pintas, lo más importante es el gancho.
El gancho tiene que ser un golpe fuerte, tiene que encajar
Tiene que dar fuerte en el corazón.
Porque en algún lugar de Florida, aún están contando votos.
Y Dick Cheney se está meando, con felicidad espasmódica.
Búrlate de los políticos, es fácil, sobre todo de Republicanos
como Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, o. . . Al Gore.
Crea yuxtaposiciones fatuas de personalidades y filosofías políticas,
Como si el comunismo fuera lo contrario de la democracia,
Como si necesitáramos a Darth Vader, no a Ralph Nader.
Atención: Cuando yo diga “Llamada”,
Vosotros decís “Respuesta”.
¡Llamada! ¡Respuesta! ¡Llamada! ¡Respuesta!
Ay Pena penita pena –
Párate en mitad de una canción que todo el mundo conozca,
Esto le dará a tu poema una sensación de urgencia.
Porque siempre hay sensación de urgencia en un poema político,
¡porque no hay tiempo que perder!
La corrupción no tiene toque de queda,
A la avaricia le da igual de qué raza seas
Y la policía de Nueva Cork
está llena de gente que lleva pistolas en la cadera
y llevan placas de metal sobre el corazón.
La injusticia no es injusticia, es in-justicia, es estulticia,
Esa es la única alineación en esta nación
En la que si no luchas por la libertad
Es que eres libre y tonto!
Y mientras hablo, en algún lugar de Florida todavía están contando votos.
Y me hace querer dar golpes!
Porque he visto la desintegración de la reintegración
Y puedo hablar con gran articulación
De las constelaciones cósmicas y las radiaciones atómicas.
He visto El Nacimiento de Una Nación
Pero me gusta más Nace una Canción
Como en un careo, te daré la explicación
De porqué SlamNation es la manifestación
De la masturbación poética y la soberbia eyaculación
Y puede que sigan contando votos en algún lugar de Florida,
Pero para cuando acabes este poema dará igual.
Porque sólo tienes que cerrar los ojos,
Bajar la voz, y acabar diciendo
El mismo verso tres veces,
El mismo verso tres veces,
El mismo verso, tres veces

The Archaeopteryx's Song by Edwin Morgan

Another poem about wanting to fly, after Pink Floyd's "Nobody Home".  Edwin Morgan is a Scottish poet that I know too little of.

I am only half out of this rock of scales.
What good is armour when you want to fly?
My tail is like a stony pedestal
and not a rudder. If I sit back on it
I sniff winds, clouds, rains, fogs where
I'd be, where I'd be flying, be flying high.
Dinosaurs are spicks and
all I see when I look back
is tardy turdy bonehead swamps
whose scruples are dumb tons.
Damnable plates and plaques
can't even keep out ticks.
They think when they make the ground thunder
as they lumber for a horn-lock or a rut
that someone is afraid, that everyone is afraid,
but no one is afraid. The lords of creation
are in my mate's next egg's next egg's next egg,
stegosaur. It's feathers I need, more feathers
for the life to come. And these iron teeth
I want away, and a smooth beak
to cut the air. And these claws
on my wings, what use are they
except to drag me down, do you imagine
I am ever going to crawl again?
When I first left that crag
and flapped low and heavy over the ravine
I saw past present and future
like a dying tyrannosaur
and skimmed it with a hiss.
I will teach my sons and daughters to live
on mist and fire and fly to the stars.

Estoy a medio salir de esta roca escamosa.
¿para qué sirve una armadura, si quieres volar?
Mi cola es como un pedestal de piedra,
En vez de un timón. Si me siento sobre ella
Huelo vientos, nubes, lluvias, nieblas donde
Yo podría, podría volar, volar alto.
Los dinosaurios son imbéciles y
Lo único que veo cuando miro alrededor
Son torpes idiotas en ciénagas
Que miden todo por toneladas.
Malditas placas y escamas
Que no pueden ni aislar de los mosquitos.
Creen que cuando hacen atronar el suelo
Al abalanzarse para pelearse o copular
Que alguien tiene miedo, que todos tienen miedo, P
ero nadie tiene miedo. Los señores de la creación
Están en el siguiente huevo del siguiente huevo del siguiente huevo de mi compañero,
El estegosaurio. Yo lo que quiero son plumas, más plumas,
Para la vida que nos queda. Y estos dientes de hierro
Ojalá los perdiera, y tuviera un pico liso
Que cortara el aire. Y estas garras
En las alas, ¿para qué sirven
Aparte de estorbo, es que te piensas
Que voy a volver a reptar en mi vida?
La primera vez que dejé el risco
Y sobrevolé el valle, pesadamente
Vi el pasado, el presente y el futuro
Como un tiranosaurio moribundo
Y pasé de largo con un siseo.
Voy a enseñar a mis hijos e hijas a vivir
De la niebla y el fuego, y volar a las estrellas.

When sorrow is fashionable.

I have known Raven for a month or so; every time we’ve met I’ve had a lot of fun, and I think I owe him too many drinks (more drinks than times we’ve met? maybe). The other day we were talking about the persistence of the Gothic subculture from the early 80s all the way to the present. I found it absurd that a taste for black clothes, some rock bands, and old horror movies would translate into a personality aimed at a display of melancholy. I was, of course, wrong, because I was forgetting my own adolescence.

I was 16 to 22 years-old in the years in which trip-hop and Radiohead were the best commercial-and-at-the-same-time-alternative music to come out of the British Isles. Portishead. Tricky. Massive Attack. Björk’s first two albums. Music to be depressed to. I listened to Portishead’s Dummy every day for a year. I discovered Radiohead a little bit later, but it struck me just as intensely. OK Computer, an album that starts with a song about a traffic accident and ends with a song about stress, was my soundtrack of the first half of the year 2000. I wasn’t always sad when I listened to those bands, but the artists lived on an image of chronic despair. You don’t expect anything else from someone who sings "please, could you stay a while to share my grief? " and sounds as if she is just about to start weeping.

None of those bands would exist without the 70’s and early 80’s work of (among others) Pink Floyd, a band that I loved as a baby, and rediscovered few years ago. This is one of my favourite, wallow-in-self-pity songs from The Wall; it probably only makes sense with music.

I got a little black book with my poems in.
Got a bag, got a toothbrush and a comb.
When I’m a good dog they sometimes throw me a bone.
I got elastic bands keeping my shoes on.
Got those swollen hands blues.
Got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from.

I got electric light,
And I got second sight.
Got amazing powers of observation.
And that is how I know,
When I try to get through,
On the telephone to you,
There’ll be nobody home.

I got the obligatory Hendrix perm,
And the inevitable pinhole burns,
All down the front of my favorite satin shirt.
I got nicotine stains on my fingers.
I got a silver spoon on a chain.
Got a grand piano to prop up my mortal remains.
I’ve got wild, staring eyes.
And I got a strong urge to fly,
But I got nowhere to fly to to... fly to... fly to.

Ooooo Babe,
When I pick up the phone,
There’s still nobody home.

Tengo un librito negro con mis poemas,
Y una bolsa, un cepillo de dientes y un peine,
Cuando soy un perrito bueno me tiran un hueso.
Tengo gomas elásticas para sujetar los zapatos,
Tengo el blues de la mano hinchada,
Tengo 13 canales de mierda para elegir en la tele.

Tengo luz eléctrica,
Y tengo poderes paranormales,
Tengo unas dotes de observación impresionantes.
Y por eso sé
Que cuando intente llamarte
No lo cogerá nadie.

Tengo la imprescindible permanente a lo Hendrix,
Y las inevitables quemaduras que fumar
Deja por toda la pechera de mi mejor camisa de raso.
Tengo manchas de nicotina en los dedos.
Tengo una cuchara de plata colgando de una cadena.
Tengo un piano de cola para apoyarme en él.
Tengo la mirada perdida y salvaje.
Tengo unas inmensas ganas de volar,
Pero ningún sitio a donde ir.

Ay, mi vida,
Cuando coja el teléfono
No va a cogerlo nadie.

Joni Mitchell

I can find no explanation to why Joni Mitchell isn’t more famous; maybe she was as famous as she deserved in other countries, not Spain. ON the topic of art made by women, a teacher of mine once taught me that the problem is not that art by males is considered superior, but that it is considered universal. A man’s experience is a universal experience; a woman’s experience is most definitely female. Whatever the case, I think this lyrics by Joni Mitchell tell the other half of the story just as well as her two male equivalents, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. It actually feels like hypothetical female bits of dialogue, if Leonard Cohen’s songs had such a thing (and if you change the love to desire). I’ve edited out a bit that doesn’t translate well.

Again and again the same situation
For so many years
Tethered to a ringing telephone
In a room full ot mirrors
A pretty girl in your bathroom
Checking out her sex appeal
I asked myself when you said you loved me
Do you think this can be real?

You’ve had lots of lovely women
Now you turn your gaze to me
Weighing the beauty and the imperfection
To see if I’m worthy
Like the church
Like a cop
Like a mother
You want me to be truthful
Sometimes you turn it on me like a weapon though
And I need your approval

Still I sent up my prayer
Wondering who was there to hear
I said send me somebody
Who’s strong, and somewhat sincere
With the millions of the lost and lonely ones
I called out to be released
Caught in my struggle for higher achievements
And my search for love
That don’t seem to cease

Otra vez lo mismo,
Tantos años
Atada a un teléfono, que suena
En una habitación llena de espejos.
Una chica guapa en tu cuarto de baño
Juzgando su atractivo.
Me pregunté si cuando me dijiste que me querías
Pensabas que era verdad.

Has estado con montones de mujeres maravillosas
Ahora te has fijado en mí
Calibrando la belleza y la imperfección
Para ver si soy digna
Como la iglesia
Como un policía
Como una madre
Quieres que sea sincera
Aunque a veces haces que se vuelva contra mí, como un arma
Y necesito tu aprobación

Da igual, sigo rezando
y me pregunto si me oye alguien
Y pido “mándame a alguien fuerte, y relativamente sincero”
Igual que los miles de solitarios
Pedí la liberación
Atrapada entre la lucha por la superación
Y la búsqueda de un amor
Que no parece que acabe.


Sappho is problematic. Very problematic. It's one of those artists whose legend is sadly bigger than their work, for all the wrong reasons, like heroin addict big-mouthed rock stars. The first problem with Sappho is that what we keep of her is little and fragmentary. The second problem is that she was a woman who composed love poetry dedicated to both men and women. Lesbian critics want to make her a lesbian; feminist critics who want to make Sappho universal say that she composed sincere erotic poems to her husband and that the poems to her girlfriends were strictly platonic. I don't care either way. All I know is this: Sappho was a woman who composed poems about the beauty of women and men, about happy weddings, and about her baby daughter. And she was so good at it that the men of her country, a few centuries after her death, thought she was a goddess. I still haven't figured out if I like her work or not, but I like the fact that she existed.

Some an army of horsemen, some an army on foot
and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
on this dark earth; but I say it is
whatever you desire:

and it it possible to make this perfectly clear to all;
for the woman who far surpassed all others in her beauty,
Helen, left her husband
-- the best of all men --

behind and sailed far away to Troy; she did not spare
a single thought for her child nor for her dear parents
but [the goddess of love] led her astray
[to desire...]

[...which] reminds me now of Anactoria
although far away...
--Translated by Josephine Balmer


Irish and sour

This anonymous Irish song may be more properly attributed to a colective of women than yesterday's choice, which was a bit of a joke. I know versions sung by Marianne Faithful, The Corrs, Sinéad O'Connor, Kate Rusby, and Lizzie Higgings. Each version changes the title; to me it's either Wish I Was or Love is Teasing. Each version is different, extracting here or expanding there. This is my own version; I haven't changed much, I'm just taking the bits I like from everyone else's.

I wish I was, I wish in vain,
I wish I was a maid again
But a maid again I can never be
Until oak was to grow up an ivy tree.

For love is teasin’, and love is pleasin’,
And love is a treasure when first it’s new
But as love grows older, then love grows colder,
And it fades away like the morning dew.

There is an alehouse on yonder town
Where my love goes and there sits down,
He takes a strange girl on his knee
Well now, don’t you think that vexes me?

There is a blackbird on yonder tree,
Some say it’s blind and it cannot see.
I wish it was the same with me,
And then of love I would be free.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
I wish I was a maid again
But a maid again I'll never be
Until oak was grown up an ivy tree.



I'll introduce you to a revolutionary idea: let's assume that anonymous works of art were created by women. I mean, why not? what says that they couldn't be?

I'm not completely familiar with the Old Testament, but so far this is my favourite Psalm. I cannot judge to what extent it is good poetry or just a prayer I love for personal reason. In any case, this is an extract from Psalm 118, that I have naughtily edited to conform both to a modern English standard (it is a revision of the King James version) and to diminish gender bias (because "do not put your trust in man" nowadays sounds like "do not put your trust in males", which is weird).

O give thanks to Her, for She is good: because Her mercy lasts for ever.
Let Israel now say, that Her mercy lasts for ever.
LLet them now that fear God say, that Her mercy lasts for ever.
I called upon my God in distress: my God answered me, and set me in a large place.
She on my side; I will not fear: what can anyone do to me?
She takes the side of those that help me.
[It is] better to trust in Her than to put confidence in anyone.
My God is my strength, and dance, song, and She's become my salvation.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of our God is strong
The right hand of our God is exalted.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of our God.
My God has punished me sore: but She has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, [and] I will praise my God.
This gate of God, into which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and has become my salvation.
The stone which the builders refused is become the headstone of the corner.
This is our God's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.


Japanese haiku by women

My longest, most complete haiku anthology includes haiku by men and by women. I don't really find any thematic or formal difference between what each gender wrote.


Todas las flores
están en su esplendor
y yo envejezco.

All the flowers
are in full bloom.
I'm getting old.


Siento en el pelo
la caricia del niño
a mis espaldas.

I feel on my hair
the caress of the child
behind me.


 Por estos bosques
tan profundos no cruza
ni un pajarillo

Not even one bird
is flying through
such a deep forest.





Dorothy Parker

If you thought yesterday's poem was to sickly sweet, my apologies. Here you have something small by Dorothy Parker. You need to be familiar with this (scroll down to poem 3) to understand it.

From a letter from Lesbia 

...So praise the gods, Catullus is away!
And let me tend you this advice, my dear:
Take any lover that you will, or may,
Except a poet. All of them are queer.

It's just the same -a quarrel or a kiss
is but a  tune to play upon his pipe.
He's always hymning that or wailing this;
myself, I much prefer the business type.

That thing he wrote, the time the sparrow died, -
(Oh most unpleasant, gloomy, tedious words!)
I called sweet, and made believe I cried:
The stupid fool! I've alwayd hated birds.

De una carta de Lesbia 

¡Alabados sean los dioses, Cátulo se fue!
 Y déjame darte un consejo, querida:
Ten los amante que quieras o puedas,
menos poetas. Son bichos raros.

Siempre es igual -una pelea, un beso
no es más que  una canción para la flauta.
Siempre está cantando tal o cual cosa;
yo siempre prefiero hombres de negocios.

Aquello que escribió, cuando se murió el gorrión
(¡qué cosa más horrible y aburrida!)
Dije que era tierno, y que me hizo llorar:
¡Qué hombre imbécil! Odio los pájaros.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a colection of poems to her husband and she was so shy about declaring her love so openly that she thinly disguised them as a translation that she called "Sonnets from the Portuguese". The collection as a whole is unusual becuase it is mostly written from happiness. Sadness is a lot more photogenic, and unrequited love is so much easier to write from.

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
'I love her for her smile---her look---her way
Of speaking gently,---for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'---
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee,---and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,---
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

Si vas a amarme, que sea por no más
que el amor mismo. Y no digas
"la amo por su sonrisa ---su mirada--- su forma
de hablar suave, por un detalle del pensamiento
que encaja bien en el mío, y que me dio
un sentimiento dulce, en tal día"
Porque estas cosas solas, Amor Mío, pueden
cambiar, hasta por ti, y el amor, así creado,
igual se destruiría. Ni me ames por
sentir pena, cuando secas mis mejillas ---
¡Puede olvidar el llanto, quien viva
contigo mucho tiempo, y así perder tu amor!
Ámame por amor mismo, para así
amar siempre, toda la eternidad.

All poets are....

"cartoons drawn on the back of business cards" by Hugh MacLeod 

I have said before that all poets are thieves and liars. That includes me. What I had not said so often or so loudly is that, as Hugh very rightly points out, some poets more or less secretly write in order to get laid. I'm not saying if that includes me.

Hugh has started drawing digitally, saving him the trouble of scanning his handmade drawings and therefore making him post more new cartoons. I hadn't been so excited about something artistic in months.

See you next week

Tomorrow I'll be going to Glasgow for a few days. It's my third trip to Glasgow in three years; the last time was almost two years ago and I have never let so much time pass between a visit to Scotland and the following one. I can't wait. It's so strange to miss so much a place that never was home.

Three haiku by Alan Spence, from the book Clear Light.

The rain has stopped
but it's still falling
under the trees.

The sun plunges
into the ocean.
The ocean overflows.

The oystercatcher's cry -
cold loneliness, the far north.

Poetry and our origins (at the Sevilla bloggers meet)

There were some people with a strong interest in culture/art/poetry yesterday at the bloggers meet I attended. I couldn't help giving quite harsh opinions about Neosurrealism and related matters, and someone (who will forgive me because I don't have his blog's address on me, so the link will have to wait) told me that a friend fo his ridicules the current fashion for adopting foreign styles and modes, especially the haiku. This person thinks the traditional forms of Spanish poetry are rich enough and worth exploring. But how can I adapt back into Spanish? I haven't been exposed to enough brilliant Spanish verse that made me want to imitate it.

I think one of the first things I ever read that made me seriously want to write poetry (about six months before I actually did) was some fragements of Middleton's play The Changeling. Middleton was a contemporary of Shakespeare and  this play tells a story or two of seduction. De Flores, the villain speaking in these two fragments, is by far Middleton's best character. Because, after reading such brilliant, strong, rich, merciless, rhythmic poetry, do you have any doubt that De Flores will do exactly what he wants with Beatrice?

I, I She had rather wear my pelt tann’d in a pair of dancing pumps,
than I should thrust my fingers into her sockets here;
I know she hates me, yet cannot choose but love her;
no matter, if but to vex her, I’ll haunt her still;
though I get nothing else, I’ll have my will.

II,I Wrangling has prov’d the mistress of good pastime;
as children cry themselves asleep, I ha’seen
Women have chid themselves abed to men.

I, I Más quisiera ella usar mi piel para forrar sus zapatitos,
que dejarme meter los dedos en su guante;
sé que me odia, y no hay nada que hacer, la quiero.
Da igual. La perseguiré, por fastidiarla,
la tenga o no, pues ese es mi capricho.

II, I Las peleas son las criadas del mejor pasatiempo;
igual que los niños que se duermen llorando,
he visto mujeres que refunfuñan camino de la cama.

The Wall Poems of Leiden

I like this poem because it is short and to the point. It says more than complete treatises on art.

The poet is a poem twenty four hours a day,
The poet is an alchemist who knows
how to turn the lead of everyday life into gold.
His poems speak for themselves.

Jotie T’Hooft.

Edited  to add: I didn't realise it was Valentines Day as I posted this. Consider it a love letter to each poet that shapes my time and my poetic language.

Defend the free world

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This one, a French one, is my favourite caricature of the ones that have caused trouble in Denmark lately (the original ones weren’t that good). It’s not from the original ones, but a French reaction to the protests against the Danish initiative.

You’ll hear two things: one, the protests are taking place because the caricatures are seen as an insult; two, the reason of the protest is that Muslims feel offended that non-Muslims are not obeying the Muslim law of not representing Mahomet. Both are lies. The cartoons were originally published in October and the reason why they are an issue now is because the were published as a challenge. A writer couldn’t find an illustrator for his book and a newspaper wondered out loud, "is it because illustrators are scared? we dare them to submit their cartoons of Mahomet". Some Muslims were offended by the open bravery.

The French cartoon is entirely made up of the sentence "I should not make make a Mohamet cartoon"

Juliet Wilson

Juliet Wilson’ s work is an excellent example of how incredibly difficult it is to write political poetry, by which I mean poetry about "issues", not just about whether you vote this or that party. It is very easy, if you want to take poetry beyond the personal, to become boring or preachy: having a worthy cause to defend has nothing to do with an ability for creating interesting language. Personally, I stay self-consciously away from political poetry because I think I’d suck at it. Prose satire, maybe. But I don’t think I can put the thoughts of my prose satire in verse. Alexander Pope managed to rhyme sarcasm well enough and there’s no point at me copycatting.

Anyway, back to Juliet. In her case, political means environmental. I’ve read about fifty of her poems and there’s always an air of melancholy, of a forest very slowly losing the battle against asfalt, and the cries of seagulls in a landfill, but never losing rhythm and original images. Even so, the poem by her that I read again and again and that I feel like translating is not political at all. It has the best of lyrical poetry:so well-written I don’t care if it is autobiographical. It must be because it is so intense. It can’t be because no one can analyse their own feelings so painfully.

Making of a Muse

There was urgency, then,
in my love for you.
Sudden in the sunlight,
your beauty and laughter,
tight-reined passion
followed me, ghostlike,

I sensed your feelings, recognised
love that could not speak,
to dare being too brave
in such strange circumstance.

I loved you well enough to know
my silence kept you safe;
knew there was no easy way
to tell you how I felt.

Now continents and years away,
your likeness sits here in my soul,
a symbol, cipher, set in stone
for e to bring to mind
when I find a word or line
on which to hang another poem
of unrequited love.

La Creación de una Musa

Había ansia, entonces,
en mi amor por ti.
Súbita e iluminada,
tu belleza, tu risa,
pasión refrenada
me seguía fantasmal
a todas partes.

Intuía tus emociones, reconocía
un amor con miedo a hablar,
a atreverse a ser valiente
en circunstancias extrañas.

Te quería y sabía que mi silencio
era tu seguridad,
sabía que no había palabras fáciles
para decir cómo me sentía.

Ahora, tras años y continentes,
Tu imagen se sienta en mi alma,
un símbolo, un código, grabado en piedra
para que lo recuerde
cuando encuentro una palabra o una frase
en los que colgar otro poema
de amor no correspondido.

Hmmm.... erotic haiku!

Jose Angel has been as kind as to leave me this haiku in the comments. He doesn't mention an author so I assume it is his. The translation into Spanish is, as usual, mine. It reminds me a lot of Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel

At long last we made love-
Somehow it seems like a fake memory, but
There was a lovely tune on your radio.

Por fin  hicimos el amor-
Parece que fuese un recuerdo inventado, pero
sonaba una canción preciosa en tu radio.


Language death and the death of gods.

I like to study the process of language birth and death. Languages die when people don’t use them anymore to talk to their babies; only children learning a language keep it alive.

There are three main reasons why languages can disappear: One, if Culture A which speaks Language A kills or enslaves all native speakers of Language B. Two, if Culture A invades Land B and people in Land B need to use Language A to deal with their new bosses, with their new government, etc. Three, when people in Land B think that by learning Language A they will prosper and have more opportunities in life because people in Land A are richer or more numerous than them. In all three cases, the B People first become bilingual for a few generations, and then their children prefer one language to the other until Language B dies. The professor who taught me this process said once that when there is only one person who speaks a language, there is actually two: there is the last speaker, and God, when the last speaker prays. Coming from a country with several different minority languages, and after having lived with hardly any chances to use my native language for a whole year, I think I understand how it feels to think in a language that no one else understands!

Anyway, that was a bit of an oblique introduction to Yehuda Amichai. He composed in Hebrew and my translation into English isn’t credited. I’m just going to put together a few bits and pieces that I like from a very long poem by him.

Tombstones crumble, they say words tumble, words fade away,
The tongues that spoke them turn to dust,
Languages die as people do,
Some languages rise again,
Gods change up in heaven, gods get replaced,
Prayers are here to stay.
I declare with perfect faith
That prayer preceded God.
Prayer created God,
God created human beings,
Human beings create prayers
That create the God that creates human beings.
After Auschwitz, no theology:
The numbers on the forearms
Of the inmates of extermination
Are the telephone numbers of God,
Numbers that do not answer
And are now disconnected, one by one.

Las lápidas se parten, dicen que los planetas mueren, las palabras se olvidan,
Las lenguas que las dijeron vuelven al polvo,
Los idiomas se mueren, igual que la gente,
Algunos idiomas resucitan,
Los dioses cambian, allá en el cielo, los dioses se sustituyen,
Las oraciones llegan y se quedan.
Declaro con fe perfecta
Que rezar fue antes que Dios.
Rezar creó a Dios,
Dios creó a los seres humanos,
Los seres humanos crearon la oración
Que creó al dios que crea seres humanos.
Después de Auschwitz, no hay teología.
Los números en los antebrazos
de los presos del exterminio
son los números de teléfono de Dios,
Números que nadie contesta
Y que ahora se desconectan, de uno en uno.

Because at this time of the year we all have New Year resolutions, here you have a little beauty by Noah Grossman, who published a few poems in Cornell University’s literary magazines. This one is taken from a 2004 issue of Rainy Day, the undergrads-only literary magazine. One of the things I love about it is that I can’t figure out if it is being defeatist or sarcastic. It is also extraordinarily hard to translate.

lower standards
split infinitives
forget manners
be more submissive

skip my vegetables
read in the dark
say never
call my ex and apologize
for being reasonable.


Ya que en esta época del año todo el mundo hace buenos propósitos, aquí tenéis una pequeña belleza de Noah Grossman, que ha publicado unos cuantos poemas  en las revistas literarias de la Universidad de Cornell; así fue como lo conocí. Éste lo he sacado de Rainy Day, la revista que sólo publica a estudiantes de licenciatura. Una de las cosas que más me gustan de este poema es que no se sabe si es derrotista o sarcástico. También es extraordinariamente difícil de traducir.  

Bajar expectativas
Hablar malamente
Perder las formas
Ser más cortado

Dejar la verdura
Leer a oscuras
Decir "nunca jamás"
llamar a mi ex y disculparme
por ser razonable.