Sunday the 19th
"Be quiet the doctor's wife said gently, let's all keep quiet, there are times when words serve no purpose, if only I, too, could weep, say everything with tears, not have to speak in order to be understood."
-- Blindness, Jose Saramago
"Doc tried calling her name but of course words out here were only words."
-- Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
It is difficult for me to express what a great idea this mash-up is. I can almost picture the notional Ginsburg out on stage with the Dead. Which indeed I think he did interact with them some times. Absolutely riveting. I must congratulate and thank Brendon Banks.
This is the kind of pairing that makes you see each component in a new light. The poem, below the fold.
Saturday the 18th
L'ortolano, o Ortaggi in una ciotola by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Mouseover to see it upside-down!
In one of his classes, Amalfitano said: the birth of modern Latin American poetry is marked by two poems. The first is "The Soliloquy of the Individual," by Nicanor Parra, published in Poemas y antipoemas, Editorial Nascimento, Chile, 1954. The second is "Trip to New York," by Ernesto Cardenal, published in a Mexico City magazine in the mid-'70s (1974, I think, but don't quote me on that), which I have in Ernesto Cardenal's Antología, Editorial Laia, Barcelona, 1978. Of course, Cardenal had already written "Zero Hour," "Psalms," "Homage to the American Indians," and "Coplas on the Death of Merton," but it's "Trip to New York" that to me marks the turning point, the definitive fork in the road. "Trip" and "Soliloquy" are the two faces of modern poetry, the devil and the angel, respectively (and let us not forget the curious fact -- though it may be much more than that -- that in "Trip" Ernesto Cardenal mentions Nicanor Parra). This is perhaps the most lucid and terrible moment, after which the sky grows dark and the storm is unleashed.
Those who disagree can sit here and wait for Don Horacio Tregua, those who agree can follow me.
--Roberto Bolaño, Woes of the True Policeman
So then, here they are:
- Parra, Soliloquio del individuo, translated by Ferlinghetti as "Soliloquy of the Individual" -- here is a recording of Ginsberg reading the translation, though annoyingly cut off before the end. Here is a recording of Parra reading.
- Cardenal, Trip to New York. (Annoying -- this is a Google Books preview and only the first page is available; I haven't been able to find a link to the original text.) (Or possibly there are more than one poem of that title by Cardenal -- I just found a link to the first page of a poem called Viaje a Nueva York which begins differently than that one.) (Update -- we'll know soon enough, I just bought the 78 Laia Antología via AbeBooks...)
Thursday the 16th
Marta Aponte Alsina's recent novellette Mr. Green is available on Kindle in Spanish; and now you can read the first few pages in my translation, at Tupelo Quarterly.
Friday the third
Ok, here is my own version.
I've been really looking forward for a while to the release of the new Gary Davis documentary, Harlem Street Singer. Saw it last night with old Xyris friend Ed and was not in the least disappointed -- indeed quite the contrary. I am here to tell you about a movie that should not be missed -- if you either (a) dig folk music or (b) think you would like to dig folk music, you ought to see this movie.
Gary Davis might be my very favorite guitar player -- and nicely, Harlem Street Singer provides plenty of commentary from guitarists that bears out this favoriting :) -- perhaps the nicest thing about this movie is the footage -- of Davis playing and singing and preaching and teaching, and also some great concert footage of bands he influenced, including Hot Tuna and the Dead. There are also interviews with guitarists he taught and influenced, including with Bob Weir and Jorma, and a monologue by Woody Mann. Mann is also the producer.
Let me leave you with "12 Gates to the City." This is that miraculous beast, the song that every version of it, is fantastic. In the movie Mann and singer Bob Sims performed a version of it that opened my eyes all over again -- check out this couple of different performances of Davis' tune (or Davis' arrangement of a trad. tune? Not entirely sure)(Hmm, and this seems like it would be a good tune for learning) -- and then watch this movie!
Tuesday, September 30th
I started reading William Carlos Williams biography of his mother last night. It is promising to be great -- it is taken from dialog with her at the end of her life, when they were translating Quevedo's "El perro y la calentura" together (from a copy that Ezra Pound had given him!) -- kind of as a pretext for getting her to talk in a situation where he could surreptitiously be taking notes. (2 things about that text -- it is apparently not by Quevedo but by Pedro Espinosa, long misattributed to Quevedo; and the Williams translation is available from New Directions, in print.)
How does it begin? I asked her.
It begins with two men walking in the fields and talking.
Oh yes, I said, una novella peregrina. Let's begin:
So we began. It served its purpose which was to draw out her comments. Let her come first, her childhood and early years, in her own words exactly as she told it.
I heard about this book, and got inspired to read it, from Marta Aponte, who is currently working on a novel about Mrs. Williams. Williams himself wrote in one of his letters (according to a fragment of Aponte's work) that it was his most important book.
Saturday, September 27th
by Jen Digby
The cold, detached, and regimental ritual-making in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; the soma-induced ecstasy of promiscuity in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; the whimsical true love of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four before torture turned something beautiful into something untouchable – science fiction presents a variety of scopes and perspectives on utopias and dystopias, often blurring the lines between the two in an experiment of “what could happen” to us. Censorship, the irony of controlled freedom, the forbidden nature of old works of art which once forged a national heritage and the suppression of free media where self-publishing empowers and inspires – these are all aspects of another world which is much closer to our own than we realize. But the way in which some science fiction texts present different realms of life disclose revealing insights on the ideology which surrounds them in present-day society – and sexuality is one of them.
In Margaret Atwood’s futuristic tale of a woman who recounts her experiences as a handmaid working under a rigid, fanatical society, sexuality is a part of life which is both sacred and profane. Sex becomes a coveted ritual to be performed between masters and handmaids under the watchful eyes of wives for the purposes of procreation only – all intimacy is restricted. Atwood argues that the very title of this work in speculative fiction (the award-winning writer is reluctant to file it under what she considers the reductive term of “science fiction”) has “become a shorthand for repressive regimes against women.” While she explores various power struggles and politics between nations in this ultra-religious state – running through several “what ifs”, Atwood also discusses Puritanism and the construct of Christian societies, as well as ideas of feminism. Within this society, sex is used as a device of control – not only because of the “falleness” and sinful nature of the act by Biblical standards which forbids pleasure, but because it places a once personal, private act into the institutions of the ruling power. One could argue that this is a “could happen” scenario whose roots are still found today in various modern issues surrounding sexuality, not only concerning religion but secular laws and parts of the pro-life movement which stress that a woman’s body is not her own with campaigners still having to stand ground for allowing women to make their own decisions.
A Free World – but Only on the Surface
Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Huxley’s Brave New World also invites the government into the bedroom to some degree by completely taking away the ability to procreate naturally, instead creating different classes of human beings (a scientific version of the caste system) via test tubes. Yet this is utopia, and sexual promiscuity is promoted to the extreme. With birth control and a healthy society, the old plights of promiscuity which left their scourge on history are things of the past – only recounted as propaganda to reassure the public that this world is the better world, and reinforce the “us vs them” sentiment against the people who live out in the Reservations who live like “savages”. While the risks of sex have been eliminated, critics often compare topical issues like “Planned Parenthood” to Brave New World in the most extreme cases. Huxley’s idea of “paradise engineering” and creating a utopia which, incidentally, may seem full of flaws to a contemporary audience potentially warn of such a future where controlled freedom – under the guise of superficial, instantaneous and risk-free satisfaction – detaches us from our values and our emotional commitments to one another. Sexuality is completely segregated from child birth (eugenics), becoming an indulgence which works as a drug to “tame” the general population under the pretence of so-called happiness and liberty. While some of the gender roles are removed here, arguably creating a more level playing field for women, male and female alike are caught in the illusion.
Hope and Discord
Yet there are other portrayals of sexuality – while Nineteen Eighty-Four certainly examines sex as yet another controlled act, the story of Winston and Julia presents another insight. Their sexuality is awakened by acting out the forbidden, reflective of fetish culture in contemporary society where the thought of enacting something not allowed – at the risk of being caught – can be arousing. The initial lust between the lovers turns into love, which does not conquer all – but the brief moments of sex for pleasure adds meaning to their lives, just as much as the adventure to meet discreetly. Unlike Frank Herbert’s Dune which examines sexuality in a completely twisted way, associating it with abuse, slavery, and excess, sexuality in the Orwellian classic touches succinctly on several layers. Sex for pleasure – an act of political rebellion – leaves the reader with hope initially, because emotional freedom and empowerment occurs, and a return to the triumphant human self as well as the sense that it cannot be repressed forever.
Science fiction has played with these ideas for generations – whether it’s the monstrous energy of the Demon in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – the ultimate potent being whose violence could be attributed to repression as well as ostracism – or the pop culture space operas of pin-up girls on wild planet colonies. Yet even in one’s idea of paradise, there is a fear – and a conscious commentary of what sexuality means to a society in both present and distant times.
Tuesday, September 23rd
A couple of things have been happening lately in the world of "poetry by J. Osner"... The chapbook of the Universidad Desconocida workshop was presented at the kickoff event for the workshop's second year. It features three of my poems and lots of beautiful writing from other student's -- and I've just finished a translation of Isabel Zapata's "Sleepwalker's Lullaby" from the chapbook. ...Two of my poems (both from Analogies for Time) were published in Issue 5 of Street Voice (I think it is the first time I have ever appeared in a poetry journal), and I'm in touch with the editor about submitting some more work.
Drop me a line! or, sign my Guestbook.
Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.