To celebrate our event tomorrow with Nathaniel Mackey at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, we’re publishing two poems from his latest collection, Blue Fasa. Read More
On Keith Waldrop.
Keith Waldrop is a quiet major poet, a major poet of quiet. His accomplishment is difficult to describe because his work refuses, in Bartleby-like fashion, the twin traps of impassivity and affectation: “On my one hand, / stasis – on the / other, striving for effect.” In one of his very few interviews, Waldrop says: “I think the worst fault a poem can have is striving for effect.” Waldrop never strives; instead, he haunts—his presence is all the more powerful for barely being there, like a ghost you discover in a familiar photograph. There are plenty of direct statements, moments of humor and pathos, but we come to know Waldrop most through his subtle, exquisite compositional decisions: the way he breaks a line or collages found language. I think here of the perfectly balanced epigrammatic poem “Proposition II”:
Each grain of sand has its architecture, but
a desert displays the structure of the wind.
On Delmore Schwartz’s “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me.”
“the withness of the body”
The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.
Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.
—The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.
That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.
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
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.
Last night, Pioneer Works, an artists’ space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, hosted a celebration of John Ashbery, who turned eighty-eight this year. The poets Geoffery G. O’Brien, Mónica de la Torre, and John Yau read some of their work and their favorite poems by Ashbery. Before Ashbery came to the stage, Ben Lerner made the following remarks. —D. P.
The poetry of astrophysics.
It’s not a new idea that poets and scientists should talk to one another. During a visit to Florence in 1638, the young John Milton sought out Galileo Galilei. By then a blind old man, Galileo was living under house arrest, confined by the Inquisition for asserting, after his celestial observations, that the Earth revolved around the sun. Years later, old and blind himself, Milton would pay homage—in his epic poem about the origins of our universe, Paradise Lost—to the great astronomer, who makes a cameo appearance with his telescope pointed at the sun’s dark spots.
Five years ago I got my first job, as a research fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; in the stray hours between thinking about Milton or Donne, I finished my first book of poems. In college, a wooden ramp across the four-hundred-year-old stone steps is the only outward sign of its most famous fellow. Fifty years ago, Stephen Hawking arrived fresh from his Ph.D. (as I did) to take up a research fellowship at Caius, then never left. Within that community, where I would sit down to lunch with friends in maths, genetics, or cognitive science, traces of those conversations began to creep into my notebooks and even into poems. When I got the commission to write a poem on light for this year’s National Poetry Day—today, in the UK—my first thought was paradoxically of its absence: the black holes whose mysteries Professor Hawking has spent his career working to unfold. Read More