by Joyelle McSweeney on Jun.28, 2013
Hola poetry fanboies!
Sitting on my “desk” (laminated folding table) today are three books sure to perk up your whole life/fashion/poetry outlook for this weekend and your life, comparable to when Roseanna Arquette becomes infected by poetry in the form of personal ads in Desperately Seeking Susan, and goes on to become a Madonna impersonator. Get into the groove!
Two nights ago our bookcase fell over and this volume flew into my hands! This poetry pops with manic muscular focus, an attempt to topo-map the world in its dismaying linguistic everything-at-once. Nicholas Grindell translates Rinck’s German in such a way that German keeps landing its pervy wallops through the mongrel screen of English:
that was the height of ice. kudos caspar david.
cathedral carved inside of it, thawing its way
down her wet throat. breathrobbing.
a vertical bottleneck. within it
halls and chambers, beneath it water, black
with cold. very cold, very black. turkey hens
are on the roam, invisible but for their core,
like a coffee bean in motion. but don’t
be deceived, the turky hen’s still there,
it just can’t be seen. the whole thing’s fatal.
I like the jack-knifing of syntax around the slalom of those line breaks, the way the phrases butt against each other and spill out of the line, the way the poem swings around and looks at itself, by turns serious and ludicrous. Slang and philosophical statement try to fit inside the same tube dress of the lyric. This shoving of opposites into the same micromini is of course the sublime. Sublime fatality. The momentum of the carcrash and the strange dispensation of the suspension of time at the moment of Impact.
One thing I know about Carina Finn, my dear friend and former student: the girl can go on. She has a Stein-like philosophical trajectory of mind and at minimum two millenia of hi-lo-pop culture to back her argufying up. When she philosophizes I see molecular diagrams of sugar rings linking into new and tasty non-nourishing foodstuffs of the future, a map of the future that can hardly called human. So I was surprised to receive Lemonworld and discover not her essayistic mode (which I adore) but these individual lyrics like a sachet of PopRocks– so tiny and tight they could pass through all the boundaries made to protect us:
CREATURE FROM THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
cherries, ribbons, and rainbows go all to bits b/c
the devil makes us sin where the wild girls live.
velvet-turbaned socialite stuffed with triangle
cobra kryptonite, you’re flagged for deletion on the
cemetary drive &
everyone’s hoping for hell except me.
To quote Sir Patti Smith: “People say beware. But I don’t care!” I love the jittery compulsion of these poems, the desire to spark, smite and be over. Could they be more compressed? They could be forced into alexandrines and ridden like a drunken boat. But if that boat was steered by Carina it would include a yukele and be floating in some pond in Central Park being toasted by a thicket of bankers. This book is basically that.
Words can get up and do things, with the persistence and perfidity of roundworms. Poetry makes things happen, where it matters– in the gut. For me, reading Clayton and Annette Smith’s 2001 translation of Cesaire’s Notebook was a revelation. I think of this as THE masterpiece of Surrrealism, the utmost, utmost example of what this artform can be in its political mode AND its artistic mode. As Arnold’s introduction to this new edition suggests, the traume-poem took many forms during Césaire’s lifetime, edited, expanded, and cut back down to reflect his developing political outlook. The earliest magazine version, translated for this new edition, could be seen as the barest, or the most concentrated version. Those of us who are fanboies for the 2001 translation might miss the crazy frame stanzas, including the opening lines “Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it, I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope!”. Some of the 70’s-isms of the earlier translation (“I say right on!” is replaced by “I say hurray!”—a little AA Milne for me) have been sanitized, and the bewitching repiton ‘Au bout du petit matin bourgeonnant’ is now translated not as ‘At the end of daybreak’ but ‘At the end of first light’ which is less violent, paradoxical, and revolutionary feeling, if a little more lyrical. Still, the new edition is a dream and a fan-boi must. The translation is en face; Arnold’s introduction is pellmell and info-packed, like a dazzling confab at the watercooler outside a stuffy seminar room, where the real education goes down; and the whole shape of the thing is a little clearer in this earlier form. The embarassing Breton introduction, historically important as it may be, is also not included here. You may lose the ‘right-on’ force of the 2001 edition, but you still get all the hits, plenty of knock-out obscure botanical terminology, and the showstopping scene in which a slave-ship self-viscerates, discharging its now liberated undead cargo into an unreal excremental dream-freedom:
Je dis hurrah ! La vielle négritude progressivement se cadavérise
l’horizon se défait, recule et s’élargit
et voici parmi des déchiquètements de nuages la fulgurance d’un signe
le négrier craque de toute part… Son ventre se convulse et résonne…
L’affreux ténia de sa cargaison ronge les boyaux fétides de l’étrange
nourrisson des mers !
I say hurray! The old negritude progressively cadavers itself
the horizon breaks, recoils and expands
and through the shredding of clouds the flashing of a sign
the slave ship cracks from one end to the other… Its belly convulses and resounds…
The ghastly tapeworm of its cargo gnaws the fetid guts of the strange suckling of the sea!
This image changed my life, my thinking about poetry and its political potential. You must change your life. Buy this book.