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Poetry

“Purple Elegy”

April 22, 2016 | by

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Dearly beloved, this is what it sounds
Like when you become a symbol through sound
That roreth of the crying and the soun:
You give up all your shit, down to the sou,
Wade through raspberry death to find him so
You can remind yourself he once was

Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s second book of poems, Heaven, was published last year. He is the recipient of the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and is shortlisted for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Two Poems

April 19, 2016 | by

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To celebrate our event tomorrow with Nathaniel Mackey at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, we’re publishing two poems from his latest collection, Blue FasaRead More »

“Le Pont Mirabeau” by Guillaume Apollinaire

February 19, 2016 | by

Clément_Maurice_Paris_en_plein_air,_BUC,_1897,026_Le_Pont_Mirabeau

In 1912, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire published “Le Pont Mirabeau” in the journal Les Soirées de Paris; a year later the poem appeared in his collection Alcools. Even in Apollinaire’s lifetime, the melancholy piece—which uses the image of the ornate bridge spanning the flowing Seine to explore love and the passage of time—was one of his best known. In the years since, its fame has only grown: it was set to music in a much-covered 1953 song by Léo Ferré, made into a choral arrangement by Lionel Daunais, and later interpreted by the Pogues. A plaque bearing the last lines can be found on the bridge’s foot. 

In a rare recording, you can hear Apollinaire himself read “Le Pont Mirabeau”:

 

In issue 202, the Paris Review staff contributed unsigned translations of ten Apollinaire poems. The following translation of “Le Pont Mirabeau” is by Frederick Seidel. 

Le Pont Mirabeau

Under Eads Bridge over the Mississippi at Saint Louis
Flows the Seine

And our past loves.
Do I really have to remember all that again

And remember
Joy came only after so much pain?

Hand in hand, face to face,
Let the belfry softly bong the late hour.

Nights go by. Days go by.
I’m alive. I’m here. I’m in flower.

The days go by. But I’m still here. In full flower.
Let night come. Let the hour chime on the mantel.

Love goes away the way this river flows away.
How violently flowers fade. How awfully slow life is.

How violently a flower fades. How violent our hopes are.
The days pass and the weeks pass.

The past does not return, nor do past loves.
Under the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine.

Hand in hand, standing face to face,
Under the arch of the bridge our outstretched arms make

Flows our appetite for life away from us downstream,
And our dream

Of getting back our love of life again.
Under the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine.

 

The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri

November 25, 2014 | by

A man unzipping his fly is vulnerable to attack.
Then the zipper got stuck.
An angel flies in the window to unstick it.
A drone was monitoring all this
In real time
And it appears on a monitor on Mars,
Though of course with a relay delay.
One of the monitors at the Mars base drone station
Is carefully considering all your moves for terror output.
But not to worry. Forget about about about it.

The body of the man you were
Has disappeared inside the one you wear.

Reminds me of the story of the man who had nipples
Where his elbows should be and whose skeleton
Was on the outside of his body.
The guy walks into a shop on Madison to buy some clothes
And buys some and walks out wearing them
Wearing them and into the Carlyle bar.
One of the waiters, originally from Algeria of all places,
Recognizes him and says with the strong accent
He has despite many years of living in the United States:
Your usual?

A man has disappeared inside his corpse.
His corpse has disappeared inside a cause.

Reminds me of the video of Robert Kennedy
Announcing to a largely black audience at an outdoor campaign rally
At night in Indianapolis
That Martin Luther King had been shot
And killed and by a white man.
Martin Luther King is dead.

Skin color is the name.
Skin color is the game.
Skin color is to blame for Ferguson, Missouri.

The body of the man you were
Has disappeared inside the one you wear.

I wouldn’t want to be a black man in St. Louis County.

A man unzipping his fly is vulnerable to attack.
Then the zipper got stuck.
An angel flies in the window to unstick it.
Here comes light-skinned Billie Holiday, Lady Day, no angel!

A drone was monitoring all this,
Which appears on a monitor on Mars,
Though of course with a relay delay.
One of the monitors at the Mars base drone station
Is carefully considering all your moves for terror output.
But not to worry.
Fuhgeddaboudit.

Reminds me of the story of the man whose smile
Shot out flames and whose skin
Was on the outside of his body.
The guy walks naked into a shop on Madison Avenue to buy some clothes
And buys some and walks out on fire wearing them and goes straight
Across the street in flames to the Carlyle bar.
One of the waiters looks as if he’s having a stroke
And raises his hands in Arabic,
Palms in, and murmurs a prayer,
And brings God a glass of humble water.

You can change
From chasing Communists
And chasing Jimmy Hoffa, the mobster union president
Who however supported civil rights,

And change to blessing and being blessed.

Some victims change from a corpse to a cause.
You can change

Reminds me of the video of Robert Kennedy
Announcing to a largely black audience at an outdoor campaign rally
At night in Indianapolis
That Martin Luther King had been shot
And killed and by a white man.
Martin Luther King is dead.

 

Frederick Seidel received the 2014 Hadada Prize. This poem will appear in our Winter Issue, available next month.

Lady Liberty

April 4, 2013 | by

47_BetamaxAlexandra Socarides of The Los Angeles Review of Books’s  has a lovely and informative piece on “New Colossus,” the Petrarchan Emma Lazarus sonnet that famously adorns the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. We learn about the poet and the poem’s formal and political import; Socarides frames “New Colossus” as a bold statement for immigrant reform and tolerance, Lazarus herself as an engaging figure worthy of study.

My own history with the iconic poem is less exalted. I remember distinctly the first time I heard it: I was three years old, in bed with one of the migraines that had arrived with the news of my mother’s pregnancy with a new brother. My father read me the poem, his voice choked with emotion, explaining that it had heralded my great-grandparents’ arrival in New York. Then he left me to sleep, drugged with pain and the red liquid children’s Tylenol that always stained the sheets.

When I woke up a few hours later, cautiously better, the words were still in my head. “Yearning to breathe free …” I thought.

I wandered into the other room, where my parents were sitting on the bed with my new baby brother, hideous and red-haired. My father was making a videotape with his Betamax camera, not that the baby was doing anything interesting. I casually stripped off my cotton underpants, lay down on the bed, and began kicking my legs in the air.

“Look at me!” I said. “Look at me!”

“Sadie, put on your underpants,” said my mother.

“But, Mama!” I cried. “I’m yearning to breathe free!”

The baby rolled or something.

“MY VAGINA IS YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE!” I shouted, in case they’d missed it.

“Today, Charlie is four months old,” my dad was narrating. “We are on Seventy-Sixth Street. Sadie, would you like to say something to the camera?”

“Camera!” I screamed. “MY VAGINA IS YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE!” I waved my legs in the air vigorously.

“Anything else?”

“MY VAGINA—”

“Enough with the vagina, Sades,” said my dad.

This is all on videotape. I recently saw it when I took a bunch of Beta tapes to be digitized. I apologize to Emma Lazarus.

*

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

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On the Twelfth Day of the Twelfth Month of 2012…

December 12, 2012 | by

... we bring you an excerpt from Russian Symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok’s 1918 poem The Twelve. “Today I am a genius,” he wrote after completing the twelve-canto chronicle of the October Revolution. The opening lines are amongst the most famous in Russian literature.

Black night.
White snow.
The wind, the wind!
It will not let you go.
The wind, the wind!
Through God’s whole world it blows

The wind is weaving
The white snow.
Brother ice peeps from below
Stumbling and tumbling
Folk slip and fall.

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