KGB Monday Night Poetry kicked off its Spring 2011 season on February 21 with Jeremy Schmall (right) & Anthony McCann, both reading from new books. (Coldfront Magazine published a "set list" of the reading here.)
You may know Jeremy as the devoted co-editor (with Justin Taylor) of the exquisite little journal, The Agriculture Reader, which besides showcasing a clear editorial point of view, is a reminder of the tactile and visual pleasures of the book as object. Jeremy's first book, Jeremy Schmall & the Cult of Comfort shares this attention to design (from the same Brooklyn-based publishers x-ing books), and I wouldn't mention this cosmetic element (that stuff about books & their covers) if it didn't feel so right for the words inside.
We handed over the podium to x-ing books publisher Mark Wagner, who in his generous introduction of Jeremy, made mention of how the sweet little package of the book belies its melancholy, dangerous goods inside. He also guided us into the reading by describing Schmall's work as a warning against the "cult of comfort" - the pollution, mutations and mutilations language endures in the hands of commerce, institutions. (Or at least as I interpreted it... the kingdom overrun / by "fifteen ways to reduce belly fat", for example...).
I'm reading (again) "Letters from Iceland," by W. H. Auden and Louis MacNiece. In this excerpt, Auden makes observations of Icelandic poetry and gives an example of a form that strikes me as being impossible to follow in English.
They seem to have preserved a passion for ingenuity helped by their damnably inflected language, since the days of the Scald's, whose verse would have broken St. John Ervine right up. Even now they write palindrom verses which can be read forwards or backwards . . . Or verses like this in which the second half is made up of the beheaded words of the first:
Congratulations go to J. D. McClatchy [shown here, left, with James Merrill in 1988] on the publication of Seven Mozart Librettos (Norton), his verse translations of The Magic Flute and The Abduction from the Seraglio from the German and The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni and two other operas from the Italian. A heroic task, and a tall order, to render these librettos into an English that sings. Consider this rendering of an aria in The Abduction from the Seraglio:
On to battle! On to strife!
Only a coward is afraid.
Will I tremble or run away?
No, I'll bravely risk my life.
Duty must be obeyed.
Only a coward is afraid.
On to battle! On to strife!
Notice how simple the words are, how lacking in pretension, and how suave and unforced the rhyming. And take my word for it: it is faithful to the original. Or consider the duet of Pamina and Papageno in The Magic Flute that culminates in this lovely declaration of vows:
The noblest aim of human life
Is to be joined as man and wife.
Man and wife, and wife and man,
Both are parts of heaven's plan.
To translate any one of these librettos into a readable prose text would be an accomplishment. To translate all seven into rhyming verse and prose recitative, fearlessly tackling two languages, is a major literary and musical event, and it's not as though McClatchy (a distinguished poet in addition to being the editor of The Yale Review) had nothing else on his plate when working on this book. He has produced, in Seven Mozart Librettos, an indispensable companion volume for any opera aficionado. I can think of no better way of preparing oneself for a production of Figaro or The Magic Flute than to read McClatchy's text of the libretto together with his always helpful introductory notes. -- DL
In July, 1923, Franz Kafka was staying at the vacation colony of Volksheim, where he was loved and cared for by Dora Diamant, the cook. Pietr Citati recounts a dinner given in honor of the author, the guests including a number of intimidated children. One of them, who was more afraid than the others, got up from the table to get something, but he stumbled and fell. The others began to laugh. But before the laughter could break out further, humiliating the child forever, Kafka said loudly in a tone of ardent admiration: "How well you fell! And how magnificently you got up!"
-- from les Ecrivains sont dans leur assiette by Salim Jay (quoted in The Ravenous Muse, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.)
One of my favorite blogs is The Improvised Life. I read it often for inspiration (check out this post on Tolstoy), so when they ran a series about painted furniture, I corresponded with the blog's creater, cookbook author and all around great improvisor Sally Schneider, about a piece of furniture that began as a white chair I found on Craigslist but that has evolved into something else entirely. Read all about it here.
Thursday, March 3, 7:00 pm: Monk books launch with Mark Strand's MYSTERY AND SOLITUDE IN TOPEKA, poems and original art. 192 Books, 21st Street & 10th Ave, NYC. (great book store but space is limited!)
A vain woman realizes that vanity is a sin, and in order not to succumb to temptation, has all the mirrors removed from her house. Consequently, in a short while she canot remember what she is like. She remembers that vanity is a sin, but she forgets that she is vain.
-- W. H. Auden, "Lecture Notes" (in Commonweal 6 Nov 1942)