Sawmill Haiku

January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

  An ancient frog
in an ancient outhouse
    Plop!

– Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Ferlinghetti is my No. 1 Beat poet even when writing about No. 2.

Hymn to a Jeddart-Justicer

January 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

The convicks sail the Reid Sea, pechin,
oarin the galley through,
rairin abune the shackle-nicherin
a sang of their hame — Peru.

Peru-fold, yowlin o Peru — their Paradise
the burdies, the jiggin, the tarts,
the croons o orange-flooers ticed
wi the baobab heavenwarts.

Bananas, ananas! Sic a tass o pleesures!
Wine in the bosie o the jaur…
Till the judged tuk Peru, like Caesars,
— guid kens for why, or frae whaur!

And the burdies and the jiggin and the she-Peruvians
were aa umbeset wi decreets.
The een o the judge are twin tin-cannikins
skancin in a midden. He treats

a blue-and-orange peacock to a luik,
a fish-cauld, lenten glaff —
the grand renbow on the tail o the peacock
like winkie groosit aff!

And nixt to Peru, fleein owre the prairie
are thae wee hummin-burdies:
the judge claucht wan puir colibri
and shaved it to the hurdies.

And nae strath noo has burnin bens
wi fierce volcanic lowe.
The judge tuk up his strathfu pen:
“Nae smokin in the Howe.”

My verse anaa in puir Peru
‘s unlawfu: penalty, torture.
The judge said: “Ye’ll no sell sic a brew
o liquor in this quarter.”

The equator grues as the shackles ring.
Peru’s loast wings and folk…
aa bar the judge, harsk, thrawn, mingein
cooerin in the law’s cope.

D’ye see the peety o the man o Peru?
Aff-loof they gied him to the galleys.
And the burdies and the jiggin, Peru, me, you —
The judge shak aa wi their malice.

– Vladimir Mayakovsky
translated by Edwin Morgan

Undoubtably more Morgan than Mayakovsky, this translation turns the futurist’s slang-lang into Scots. Another Vladimir (Nabokov) would have detested Morgan’s freedom with the translation (see Eugene Onegin or “The Art of Translation”), if one could call this a translation at all. “Patische” might be the better word; Mayakovsky’s poem (which I cannot find dressed in its original Russian garb) might be untranslatable. However, M & M were both defenders of the avant-guade, both wildly innovative and formidably formal, both interested in the sonic texture of language, both swimmers in the underground’s undercurrent — Mayakovsky’s experimental verse and ties to futurism, Morgan’s native Scots dialect fused with concrete poetry — that carried them away from the mainstream’s stream, so that Morgan’s stylistic flourishes contain Mayakovsky’s spirit even if only tangentially related to the original.

ottos mops

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

ottos mops trotzt
otto: fort mops fort
ottos mops hopst fort
otto: soso

otto holt koks
otto holt obst
otto horcht
otto: mops mops
otto hofft

ottos mops klopft
otto: komm mops komm
ottos mops kommt
ottos mops kotzt
otto: ogottogott

– Ernst Jandl

This lipogram about Otto and his dog has no great English translation, so I’ve left it in German. Since the sound is the sense, one only has to listen to appreciate the story (it ends in pug puke):

Love

December 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
  Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
  From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
  If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
  Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
  I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
  Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
  Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
  My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
  So I did sit and eat.

– George Herbert

In Catholicism, the Eucharist is the taking of the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine. I suppose there are some old-school Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are literally the flesh and blood of Christ, and not symbolic gestures, in what amounts to holy cannibalism. It is unclear whether “Love” is love personified or Christ himself in Herbert’s poem (probably the latter), but when Love instructs the speaker to taste its meat, the invitation resonates as a spiritual and possibly physical feast.

the Computer’s First Christmas Card

December 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Computer's First Christmas Card", Edwin Morgan

– Edwin Morgan

In which Molly and Jerry marry merrily, Barry hops with happy Harry, poor Jarry contracts what seems to be hepatitis, and the computer after lines of garbled greetings wishes us all a Merry Chrysanthemum.

Separation

December 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

– W. S. Merwin

Love lost is not so much about feeling incomplete; rather, it is about learning to be complete in a new way, to weave one’s existence into new tapestries using old threads.

Napoleon

December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

“What is the world, O soldiers?
    It is I;
I, this incessant snow,
  This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
  Through which we go
    Is I.”

– Walter de la Mare

Though Napoleon won the Battle of Borodino outside of Moscow in what would be the bloodiest day of fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, he was forced to retreat due to the oncoming Russian winter and the lack of supplies in Moscow. By the time he returned to home soil, his army of 250,000 had dwindled to a quarter of its size, and the battle marked the beginning of Napoleon’s decline.

It remains ambiguous as to whether we hear Napoleon marching to Moscow or slinking away. The poem is either extremely ironic: a megalomaniac marching towards battle and not realizing his imminent downfall; or an apt personal reflection: Napoleon as the cause of the solitude, the thousands lost, the barren landscape through which the soldiers trudge.

Dance of the Macabre Mice

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the land of turkeys in turkey weather
At the base of the statue, we go round and round.
What a beautiful history, beautiful surprise!
Monsieur is on horseback. The horse is covered with mice.

This dance has no name. It is a hungry dance.
We dance it out to the tip of Monsieur’s sword,
Reading the lordly language of the inscription,
Which is like zithers and tambourines combined:

The Founder of the State. Whoever founded
A state that was free, in the dead of winter, from mice?
What a beautiful tableau tinted and towering,
The arm of bronze outstretched against all evil!

– Wallace Stevens

An autumnal anecdote accounting an ambulatory adventure across ancient armaments augurs an auspicious ascendency: agile animals above anthropoid autocrats (America).

At a Forest Pool

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here sad self-lovers saw in tragic error
Some lovely other or another sky;
In your reversing yet unlying mirror
  I saw I was I.

– John Hollander

This neat little poem plays off of the Narcissus myth while employing a literary trick, the palindrome, so appropriately as to almost rescue that particular form of wordplay from the realm of kitsch. A man, a plan: John Hollander!

the Secret Sits

November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

– Robert Frost

“The Secret Sits” is an unusual poem for Frost, being more elusive than usual; a metaphysical teaser, it reads like a passage from an ancient Eastern religious text.