Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the lights of all you didn't say

Mine has been a lifelong search for the poems I need to read - see, hear, touch, taste. Desperately, obsessively, to give a shape to inchoate experiences, my amorphous life. To understand my place in the world and the world in me.

Yet more often than not it's been the poems which have found me, lightly falling at my feet, unassuming, like long-travelled leaves from some faraway country.

The poem I need always finds me, in the same way that the person I need, however improbable, finds me too. We find each other - and ourselves. However dark, however difficult. A bit like this:

*       *       *

If anyone knows about sullen loneliness, you do
Yet there's a grin in the wind, heartless and cold
There's a dark in the darkness, beauty of streams
I low my beams to you, from tunnel to tunnel

as if the frozen air had a distinct personality
Standing at the lonnen head, holding leeks, you
sawed my glance in half with yours. What keen eyes!
Such strange, out-dated clothes. What's inside counts.

Leaning into the tall grass grandness of your alert stance
towards the west and the brilliant beauties of Ireland,
I know now why you took the sickle hook
backing the beasts into their shutdown shed

You chopped the gate for want of sound
but you had sound, all sound, my purr mistress
my fantastic slavver merchant, when we peeled the sky

together we had water and silence and fire and togetherness
the lights of all you didn't say knots my life and all dreams.

--Barry MacSweeney, 'Daft Patter', from Pearl in the Silver Morning (1999) in Wolf Tongue: Selected Poems 1965-2000 (Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe, 2003), p. 322.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Tonight, re-reading Clarice Lispector, I suddenly remembered Maria Gabriela Llansol, and couldn't help regretting having resisted her writing for so long, perhaps because I intuitively felt it was too close to the bone for safety (that is, when safety was something I treasured, alas. Not anymore.)

It's no surprise that Llansol's amazing work has remained accessible only to a small, very small readership and to a coterie of academics, who haven't as yet seemed to have found the time nor the will to make her texts more widely available in English, as she deserves - in the same way that Llansol herself beautifully and generously translated - or trans-figured - into her native Portuguese language texts by Rimbaud, Verlaine, Rilke, Apollinaire, Eluard, Emily Dickinson, and many, many others.

Here's a tiny contribution, from a book I read on my last trip to Portugal. I only wish I had the desire to translate more on the trip this summer. Portuguese is such a painful language to me, though...

VIII. under her veil

I very intimately think to those who read __________ the legentes, I desire.

I expose ourselves.

Yet, if you who think do not offer your body,
what will you think?

XLII. nothing

if I don't listen to the leaves' oxygen,
music is blind to me.


«it is between hammers that our heart survives.»

(translated from Maria Gabriela Llansol, Amigo e Amiga: Curso de silĂȘncio de 2004. Lisbon: AssĂ­rio & Alvim, 2005).

Friday, August 6, 2010

the new myth from within the self*

The Poem as Mask


When I wrote of the women in their dances and
wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, gold-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from

There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

Muriel Rukeyser

from Rachel Blau DuPlessis's comment on the poem, in Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

difficult beauty

Why do we flee from feeling? Why do we celebrate those who lower us in the mire of their own making while we hound those who come to us with hands full of difficult beauty?

If we could imagine ourselves out of despair?

If we could imagine ourselves out of helplessness?

What would happen if we could imagine in ourselves authentic desire?

What would happen if one woman told the truth about herself? The world would split open.
Muriel Rukeyser

from Jeanette Winterson, 'The Semiotics of Sex' in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (New York: Vintage, 1995), pp. 116-17.