Posts Tagged ‘poetry’
January 26, 2016 | by Danniel Schoonebeek
In the afterword to Bright Scythe, her new translation of Tomas Tranströmer’s selected poems, Patty Crane tells a fascinating, fatalist story about how she came to translate the late Swedish poet and Nobel Prize recipient. Crane moved with her family to Tumba, Sweden in 2007, after her husband took a job overseas at a paper mill. A year into her relocation, she took a summer residency at Vermont College and began flying back to the United States in order to focus on her writing. One evening she sat next to poet Jean Valentine in a cafeteria, and because Valentine had heard that Crane was living near Stockholm, she asked if Crane might deliver a book to her friend Tomas. A year later, Crane was sitting in Tomas Tranströmer’s home, speaking to him in Swedish, and beginning to translate his poem “The Station” into English. A few more years later—and this isn’t part of that fatalist afterword, but it’s part of our story today—a galley of Bright Scythe arrived at my studio in the Catskills and the doors that seemed to bar me from Tranströmer’s work for so many years were blown off their hinges.
Is it weird for you to think that if even one of these events never took place you and I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation?
It is weird. If it weren’t for a flat bicycle tire, we definitely wouldn’t be having this conversation! That’s how I met my future husband, whose future job brought us to Sweden. I imagine there are events in your own life, maybe even a chance encounter, that led to this exchange we’re having. Turn of events such as the ones I experienced—the move to Sweden, learning the language, re-discovering Tranströmer, my chance encounter with Jean, and everything that flowed from that—seem to me to be less about what happens to you in a given set of circumstances and more about what you make happen. I guess I’m talking about opportunity. A door opens and you enter. And look, a new room with more doors. Here I am in Stockholm, taking Swedish-for-Immigrants classes. Here I am reading Tranströmer in the original Swedish. Here’s an early draft of my translation of “From July ’90” with Tomas’s faint pencil lines under the word pit. And here we are, Danniel, having this conversation. How do I reconcile that? I hope with sufficient gratitude, humility and hard work. Read More »
January 20, 2016 | by Molly Peacock
January 14, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
The poet C. D. Wright died unexpectedly this week at the age of sixty-seven, in Providence, Rhode Island. “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free,” Wright once said, “and declare them so”; poetry was “the one arena where I am not inclined to crank up the fog machine.” Over the course of more than a dozen books, she “found a way,” as The New Yorker put it, “to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle.”
Wright’s poem “Our Dust,” which might double as a kind of eulogy—“I made / simple music / out of sticks and string ... I / agreed to be the poet of one life, / one death alone”—appeared in the Winter 1988 issue of The Paris Review, and is reprinted in full below. It was later collected in her book Steal Away. You can watch her read it aloud here. Read More »
January 14, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Where 7Up is the uncola, poetry is the “un-Trump,” Eileen Myles says: “Poetry always, always, always is a key piece of democracy. It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary … I think it would be a great time for men, basically, to go on vacation. There isn’t enough work for everybody. Certainly in the arts, in all genres, I think that men should step away. I think men should stop writing books. I think men should stop making movies or television. Say, for fifty to one hundred years.”
- Last week, I sang the praises of Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel, a 1953 heist novel about a seedy couple on the lam. It should have been turned into an excellent movie by now—but we’re lucky because it hasn’t, and that means we have no choice but to read it as Chaze wrote it. Writes Christian Lorentzen: “On a technical level, it is possible to write a perfect crime novel. You might say Black Wings Has My Angel is beyond perfection … [It’s] the sort of love story in which either lover might turn in or murder the other at any moment until its last desperate pages … They stick with each other when everyone’s against them, knowing that neither of them is really fit for the straight and narrow. When the surprises arrive, Chaze makes no false moves, and none of the plot’s mechanics creak. There’s a shoot-out, cigar-involved police brutality, and a jailbreak.”
- Oscar Wilde faced accusations of plagiarism for most of his career—he was clever enough to know he’d sound more clever if he borrowed some choice phrases here and there. James McNeill Whistler, the American painter, was especially dogged in his efforts to bring Wilde’s appropriated bons mots to light: “Many observers dismissed the idea that Wilde’s youthful identification with his Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite poetic idols was so strong that his devotion to them—and not a desire to steal from them—resulted in his apparent copying of their writings … Toward the end of 1886, Whistler’s temper flared up once more when he detected Wilde’s flagrant appropriation of some of his phrases. ‘What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables, and picks from our platters the plums for the pudding he peddles in the provinces.’ ‘Oscar,’ Whistler’s barbs continued, ‘has the courage of the opinions … of others!’ ”
- There’s a popular myth about “Paris Syndrome,” an affliction of disillusionment that apparently strikes about a dozen Japanese tourists a year when, arriving at last in storied France, they find it to be startlingly imperfect beside their fantasies of it. Harriet Alida Lye called bullshit and visited the Japanese Embassy to set things straight. “The man in the press office cut short my efforts,” she writes. “ ‘This so-called Paris Syndrome,’ he said, ‘is not recognized by any officials in either Japan or France, and there is no specific group within the Embassy that deals with any kind of health problems.’ The embassy had ‘no information and no statistics’ on Paris Syndrome … What is it about Paris that creates the possibility for unrealistic expectations in the first place? … Why are people like my dentist unable to perceive that life in this city could be anything other than a dream?”
- What do Roger Angell, Diana Athill, and Ann Burack-Weiss have in common? They’re all old; they all have new books about being old; their new old books are all good. Athill, who led an “unconventional love life,” recalls in her book “how a memoir she wrote on that subject distressed her genteel mother. Their solution to this disagreement was to simply not talk about it, which Athill at first found ridiculous, then comic, and then, finally ‘a very successful way of dealing with a difficult problem. You have a daughter whom you love, she does something you wish very much she hadn’t done, but you want to go on loving her in spite of it.’ The essay ends with Athill observing that this strategy really works. ‘My mother and I grew closer and closer. There are no memories that I value more than that of the almost flame of love which lit her eyes when she opened them and saw me bending over her deathbed.’ ”
January 6, 2016 | by Alex Dueben
There’s a popular story about Linda Pastan: she won her first poetry prize as a senior at Radcliffe in the fifties, and the runner-up was one Sylvia Plath. It was an auspicious start for Pastan, even if she had never heard of Plath at the time. She’s gone on to publish fourteen books, amassing a host of accolades along the way. Her latest collection, Insomnia, appeared last fall. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review since 1987; the most recent, “The Collected Poems,” was in the Fall 2015 issue.
“There is no self-pity,” May Sarton wrote of Pastan’s Five Stages of Grief: “she has reached down to a deeper layer and is letting the darkness in. These poems are full of foreboding and acceptance, a wry unsentimental acceptance of hard truth.” The same could be said of Insomnia, in which Pastan, who is eighty-three now, reckons with old age in lines that are variously restless and serene, spirited and subdued. “Why are these old, gnarled trees so beautiful,” she writes, “while I am merely old and gnarled?” In these poems, the bucolic and the morbid are never far apart. In “Root Ball,” she likens an asteroid that lands in her garden to “a giant brain, ripped from its skull.” I spoke to Pastan, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, about sleep, dreams, and manure.
Did a lot of the poems in this collection emerge from sleeplessness?
I do suffer from insomnia myself, and on more than one occasion, while I’m lying in the dark, the solution to a problem I’ve been struggling with in a poem actually, and magically, comes to me. But more usually I try to put myself to sleep by thinking about the plot of a book I’m reading or a movie I just saw. Many people my age seem to have trouble sleeping, and I suppose it may be because that long and final sleep is just ahead, and even if we don’t acknowledge it, we want to be awake and aware as long as possible. I was warned early not to give a book a title that would make it easy for a reviewer to slam you. Such as, If you have insomnia, try reading this book and it will put you right to sleep. And it has occurred to me that one or more people might buy the book thinking it will help them with their own sleep problems. But more seriously, I chose Insomnia as my title because the word conjures for me a struggle with consciousness itself as well as a struggle with the looming dark, just outside the window. Read More »
January 5, 2016 | by W. D. Snodgrass
From “Dabbling in Corruption,” an essay by W. D. Snodgrass, in our Spring 1994 issue. Snodgrass was born on this day in 1926; he died in 2009. Here, he recalls seeing Robert Frost read at a Washington D.C. poetry conference in October 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis was at full tilt. Frost was eighty-eight then, and, as Snodgrass writes, “obviously in his last months”; he died the following January.
Our luncheon with Jacqueline Kennedy that day was suddenly canceled—rumor had it she was in a cave somewhere in a western state. Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles were steaming toward Cuba; American war ships were steaming toward them. If they met in mid-Atlantic, World War III would almost certainly begin; Washington would be wiped out in hours …
By the time [of Frost’s reading], I was even more drunk and … did not dare register what was happening until a day or so later. Frost began, as he almost never did, by reading someone else’s poem: “Shine, Perishing Republic” by Robinson Jeffers. The title alone might have outraged his audience but they were so preconditioned to reverence that nothing else could reach them. Moving to his own poem, “October,” he drew special attention to its relevance for the current autumnal crisis: