Bob Holman has been dubbed a member of the “poetry pantheon” by the New York Times Magazine, “ringmaster of the spoken word” by the New York Daily News, and “poetry czar” by the Village Voice. The San Francisco Poetry Flash calls him “the best MC in the USA” and “our generation’s Ezra Pound.” His last collection of poems, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something, a collaboration with Chuck Close, was exhibited at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum during the Venice Biennale and published by Aperture. Holman ran the infamous poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Café from 1988 to 1996. In 1995, he founded Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records, the first-ever major spoken word label. The United States of Poetry, a TV series he produced for PBS, won the 1996 INPUT (International Public Television) Award. Holman is Visiting Professor of Writing at Columbia School of the Arts, founder and proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club, and artistic director of Study Abroad on the Bowery, a certificate program in applied poetics.
Moderated by David Lehman, poetry coordinator at the School of Writing.
Each day this week, we will present a poem by Sextus Propertius -- #12 in his Cynthia sequence in the original Latin, in Vincent Katz's accurate transltion, and then in free translations (based on sound and appearance with an utter disregard of semantics) by such poets as David Lehman, Laura Cronk, Matthew Yeager, Megin Jimenez, Justin Marks, Wende Crow, Karl Parker, Erin Burke, Phoebe Zinman, Peter Drake, Claire Fuqua, J. D. Bullard and their confreres and consoeurs as well as a pocket bio of Sextus Propertius by Jack Hanley, and not a word about Extra Pound!
OK let's get started. Here is the Promethean poem in the original and in Vincent Katz's translation:
Quid mihi desidiae non cessas fingere crimen, quod facias nobis, conscia Roma, moram? tam multa illa meo divisa est milia lecto, quantum Hypanis Veneto dissidet Eridano; nec mihi consuetos amplexu nutrit amores Cynthia, nec nostra dulcis in aure sonat. olim gratus eram: non illo tempore cuiquam contigit ut simili posset amare fide. invidiae fuimus: non me deus obruit? an quae lecta Prometheis dividit herba iugis? non sum ego qui fueram: mutat via longa puellas. quantus in exiguo tempore fugit amor! munc primum longas solus cognoscere noctes cogor et ipse meis auribus esse gravis. felix, qui potuit praesenti flere puellae; non nihil aspersis gaudet Amor lacrimis: aut si despectus potuit mutare calores, sunt quoque translato gaudia servito. mi nesque amare aliam neque abhac desistere fas est: Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit.
And now as translated by Vincent Katz
Why don’t you stop fabricating the crime of apathy for me, which you say, all you eyes of Rome, is the cause of our delay? She is separated as many miles from my bed as is the Hypanis from the Venetian Po. Cynthia doesn’t nurture my usual affections with her embrace, nor sounds sweet in my ear. Once I pleased her: no one then could claim to love with such intensity.
We were victims of envy: didn’t some god eclipse me? Well, what herbs from Promethean heights divided my bed? I am no longer what I was: a long road changes girls. In a scrap of time, love has flown so far! Now, for the first time, I am forced to know long nights Alone and hate the sound of my own voice.
He’s happy who cried for a girl who was actually there. Love delights in being sprinkled with tears. Or if the despised lover can change his passion’s object, there are pleasures too in transferring one’s servitude. For me it’s not fated to love anyone else or to stop loving her: Cynthia was the first, Cynthia will be the last.
Celebrate the life and poetry of Paul Violi, with readings of his poems by distinguished poets, friends, and former students. The roster of presenters includes Paul Auster, Star Black, Patricia Carlin, Billy Collins, Alex Crowley, Elaine Equi, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Mark Hillringhouse, Amy Lawless, David Lehman, Lizzy McDaniel, Charles North, Ron Padgett, Robert Polito, Ali Power, Michael Quattrone, Helen Schulman, Amanda Smeltz, Mark Statman, Tony Towle, Maggie Wells, and Bill Zavatsky.
Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor
6:30 PM on Friday evening, December 2, 2011
Free; no tickets or reservations required; seating is first-come first-served.
Find out more about Paul Violi over at the always engaging blog TheThe.
Read tributes to Paul here. Send your tribute to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out how you can contribute to the Paul Violi Memorial Prize fund here. (Read an interview with Alex Crowley, winner of the first Paul Violi prize, here.)
Thanks, everyone, for your positive responses to yesterday’s post, both online and off! I’m happy I could help generate such a conversation!
To clarify: The post was partially tongue-in-cheek, and the name of the awards was supposed to be silly and over-the-top. The $20 award was absurdly low by design. My point is this: If we feel the range of national awards or in-print anthologies doesn’t fully represent the communities of poetry we love, we, as editors and readers and poets, have the right to create new awards. And the prestige they receive is a function not only of the creator’s proclamation, but the degree to which they reflect contemporary poetry’s range and vibrancy. I’m certainly not uniquely qualified to create such awards or anthologies, but I will—that part of my post wasn’t ironic. You could create one too, just as David did several years ago when he started Best American Poetry. There was a need then—one that still exists today—except that today, there are so many more publishing poets.
I was also serious about nominations—please continue to send them to me at email@example.com! Thanks to everyone who sent names and titles to me already! For the official 2011 winners, please see the Coconut website and/or facebook page sometime around the end of January.
Back to Coconut, I can now reveal one more secret: We’ll also be publishing Serena Chopra’s first full-length collection in 2013! Serena’s chapbook Penumbra is due out any day from Flying Guillotine. Here’s a poem from it, called “Force and Stress”:
Force is that which stole your saw and tasseled its blade from my throat—a change in motion— stationary objects are unproductive. From everyday experience you know that if a door is stuck (stationary), you apply force to open it (get it in motion). To apply motion towards reset, structural geologists use the term stress, or the amount of you I find parched in my edges. The magnitude of stress is not simply fibrous. Not wild flower bouquets to hidden blades. Not the mystery of the purpose of depending on skin. Not to keep you out. The magnitude of stress is not simply us, but also relates to this door. Locked edges. For example, if you are walking barefoot on the beach, your feet lifting and folding sand, the weight resets the water’s fine composition of her shell-bits and fossil. However, if she would not let you sigh into her welcoming edges, if she clawed you from the shore and made you tread—You’d spit in her hair. Or journey to her gut and stomp up phantom clouds of dust.
Now about me: My most recent book, Reveal, is just about read to go to the printer and will be available at the Coconut/Bloof booth at AWP. Please pick up a copy? SPD will have it too—hopefully by early spring. I’m also finishing up my next manuscript, Change Machine, which will have two sections: “Heads” and “Tails.” I plan to submit it to publishers just after New Year. Anyone interested in looking at a copy when it’s ready?
Also, I ran into Gina Myers a couple of hours ago at Criminal Records, a terrific Atlanta independent cd store. Is it true that cds will soon no longer be made? Wouldn’t that put an end to the artistry (visual/object and conceptual) of the album? Will all music be reduced to singular points, released as each song is produced? Will everything, including books, dissolve into the netherweb? I love technology, but—as was discussed recently elsewhere on this blog—I tremble at the potential loss of the physical book. & music that can be exchanged from hand to hand.
I come to speak of daffodils not to bury bulbs of them. Here as we enter the entry to winter I thought I'd hinder the mundane with a bit of verse rapture about how hard it is to do without and how often we already have what we can't quite remember. Let's start again.
For many of us, when someone asks, “What would you bring with you to read if you were stuck on an island deserted of relief, for upwards of decades, lost as a tribeless chief?”, the answer is, “What do you mean ‘if’?
In Elizabeth Bishop’s sublime poem "Crusoe in England" every stone and stanza is a brilliant primer on the primal and the primary, what it is to be human from pram to prime to prim, and back to pram again.
Today I’m thinking of Crusoe’s confession that among the agonies of that wee island of his captivity, beyond rank loneliness and raw despair, beyond rage like a volcano-in-violence and sorrow like the cold, hardened magma the morning after, looking like the very shit of your life solidified, as unkempt as your bedroom, some parts glassy perfection and frozen, others chaos and regret, yes beyond all that, sat the anguish of a forgotten fact and nothing to consult to bring the neuronic nightmare of searching to a climaxed close, an answered ending, a fattened act in the sated sweet repose of Now I Know.
You should go read the whole poem but if you’re already too drunk or not yet drunk enough, read this chunk from the trunk:
There was one kind of berry, a dark red. I tried it, one by one, and hours apart. Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects; and so I made home-brew. I'd drink the awful fizzy, stinging stuff that went straight to my head and play my home-made flute (I think it had the weirdest scale on earth) and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats. Home-made, home-made! But aren't we all? I felt a deep affection for the smallest of my island industries. No, not exactly, since the smallest was a miserable philosophy.
Because I didn't know enough. Why didn't I know enough of something? Greek drama or astronomy? The books I'd read were full of blanks; the poems--well, I tried reciting to my iris-beds, "They flash upon that inward eye, which is the bliss..."the bliss of what? One of the first things that I did when I got back was look it up.
The island smelled of goat and guano.
Now what I want to say to you, dearest darling bleaders is about what she, he,
Tom Disch excelled at every literary genre he tried his hand at and had big infuential fans and yet -- and yet he was dogged by bad luck, by a prejudice against genre fiction (he made his mark initially as a sci-fi writer), and by the lack of one breakthrough event that could have turned him into a household name -- to write a best-seller that is made into a movie or be at the center of an intense controversy or ideally both at once. He was a brilliant novelist: read "Camp Concentration," "334," "On Wings of Song," and the short stories in "Getting into Death." He also distinguished himself as an author of children's books (jn verse and prose), an anthologist (speculative fiction), and as a playwright willing to take on the Cathlic church in a verse play that Harold Bloom picked ouit for The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997. A fearless critic -- whether of theater or books, in London or New York -- he was a poet of immense formal gifts, great inventiveness, wit, humor, and sometimes savage loathing. In some of his parodies, such as one he did of A. R. Ammons, what shines through is his affection; he share with Ammons the ability to say yes to life in all its diversity and for all our perplexity. In the poems he wrote in his last year, he displays ire as fierce as his irony is bitter. Always prolific, Disch chronicled the year of his suicide in poems, a few of which we've posted on this blog. -- DL
What I Can See from Here
I face east toward the western wall Of a tall many-windowed building Some distance off. I don't see the sunset Directly, only as it is reflected From the facade of that building. Those familiar with Manhattan know How the evening sun appears to slide Into the slot of any east/west street, And so its beams are channeled Along those canyon streets to strike Large objects like that wall And scrawl their anti-shadows there, A Tau of twilight luminescence At close of day. I've seen this For some forty years and only tonight Did I realize what I had been looking at: The way god tries to say good-bye
This morning I decided to launch a major new poetry award, called The Super Important Totally Awesome Major Major International Poetry Award, with its easy-to-memorize acronym SITAMMIPA. It will carry as much prestige as the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, or National Book Critics Circle Award. Each year a staff of experts will choose five finalists from all the nominees, then I will mail out ballots to 50 prominent poets to vote for the winners (two categories: Full and Chapbook-length). Each winner will receive $20 from me, plus, most importantly, all the incredible prestige that will come with the award. I’m totally serious. Well, I mean I fully intend to give out the awards, at least.
Please email nominations for the 2011 SITAMMIPAs to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Winners will be announced sometime around the end of January, and I’ll send out checks just after. I’m certain we’ll get major, important coverage in all the major, important news venues.
The idea for this major, important new award came from a conversation I had today with another poet about the ways in which awards and anthologies can fragment community by creating an artificial sense of privilege or exclusivity. I don’t think this state of poetry is anyone’s fault—it’s just that we all (well, many of us) have slipped into a mode of discourse in which we (readers and editors alike) equate a selection for an award or an anthology as some sign of objective superiority, rather than the opening gesture of a conversation. When Rae Armantrout (deservedly!) won two of the three major poetry awards, wasn’t it also an acknowledgment of the work of Rae’s poetry community? In addition to buying Versed, which is a terrific book, shouldn’t everyone also go out and purchase titles by Leslie Scalapino, Lyn Hejinian, and Carla Harryman? And/or other poets with whom Rae’s work has been in conversation? And bookstores everywhere carry these titles on their shelves?
We can, in other words, become introduced to or begin to engage a particular poetry community through an award or anthology as entry point.
Her waking state can be termed the true yellow cling peach of romance In a word, anatomy She will return as a harmless subject envied by none Neighborhood: abandoned former battlefield Social structure: artsy/inefficacious Favorite leisure pastime: whining/watching rented movies And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings They have been put in alphabetical order Like a piece of ice on a hot stove If it is a wild tune I threw away punctuation Never reject anything. Nothing has been proved Back into the city to find that lost serenity I woke from it. Nothing anywhere lacked definition
--Lyn Hejinian, “11th Dream of July,” from Coconut Five
Across sculpted surfaces glowworms manage excess with initials some call instincts and others choose to relish for their own sake. How many times has a gift become a crisis?
Beatles do not ask this question. They ask another question. Will the debris linger on the anchor? Much has been made of baleful themes waiting to be realized. But upright legs rub together regardless of gender.
Phrasing is everything clamoring for connection organized by jealousy. Emoluments for hands scale up the spine of another's mate. Dust lit on chunk. There were consequences and results never acknowledged by either.
Crashing through the waves with their jaws interlocked, the fighters kill each other then duck under a wreck where the coolest of nights collect their orgasms.
A grandstand above is not the place to sit when the psyche below wants revenge. Such arrangements can't control a wing tickling inside the breast or the barb that curls down the smooth of a butt or the knee that picnics on the outside of a strange creature's toe. It is not safety one seeks in a shadow.
Across sculpted surfaces theories speak to me as poems. Literacy in fields of discourse crumbles amongst freaky sounds. Here are the sirens of not knowing everything. The map of whatever is stilted. More than one bird has pinched an ear, which burns in tenderness and loses a hard-on.
Alternatively, a bird pinches an ear. Alternately, a bird pinched an ear.
Alphabets like insects may triumph over the arrangements made from their parts more than is normally thought. Even as languages disappear the headspace made in the damage converts to tongue.
Between an ecstasy and its other is a factory. Bees nest inside its abandoned parts. In a photo the factory seems old and still. It is never still. The photo is a distraction used to orient brains toward the shell of their prey.
--Carla Harryman, “not ensnared, they wait: Noise for Adorno,” from Coconut Eleven
Best American Poetry, each year, generates wonderful conversations. The easiest possible critical response to an anthology (and, sadly, the most common) is to list the poets who were omitted, but “shouldn’t” have been, or to dismiss particular inclusions. We all do it—it’s this type of conversation’s default posture. Fortunately, however, we’re at a point in poetry in which an anthology can be constructed along many, many aesthetic lines, and within each of those lines, with many, many possible and various points. For me this is one of the greatest parts of poetry—that at the end of each year we can take time to reengage the many incredible poems we read throughout the year and discuss why and how each is “best.”
In addition to the new award above, Coconut will publish an anthology sometime around the beginning of 2013. The anthology will be edited only by me and will include my choices of approximately 100 amazing and original poets who help to comprise what, in my opinion, is new and interesting in poetry today. Upon the anthology’s publication, I’m going to create a blog to allow readers to post their choices for which poets should have been included. Then, sometime the next year, Coconut will publish a companion anthology filled with only those poets nominated by readers. The first volume wholly, individually subjective; the second, democratic.
What do you think? Don’t forget to email me your choices for the best book and chapbook of poetry published in 2011!