“Not An Elegy For Mike Brown”: Two Poems For Ferguson
Poet Danez Smith’s “Not An Elegy For Mike Brown” and “Alternate Names for Black Boys.” / Buzzfeed.com
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
As a writer and reader, there’s hardly anything I enjoy more than coming upon fresh new ways of describing things, and here’s a sparkling way of looking at an avalanche, by Marty Walsh, who lives in Maine.
The snow’s/feet slip
slope it comes
flat on its back
as it passes,
left and right
until it comes
to a juddering
of the little village
in the valley far below.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Marty Walsh, whose most recent book of poems is Furniture Out in the Woods, Marty Walsh, 1999. Poem reprinted from Plainsongs, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, by permission of Marty Walsh and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
In another spirit, Celan can truly reply with close and clear translation. A century after Emily Dickinson, he shared her solitary, baffled, spiritual yearning and her sense that death dwells close and poems speak truth, if anything can. Here is a lyric whose rhythm and density Celan echoes, and then some.
Let down the bars, O Death —
The tired Flocks come in
Whose bleating ceases to repeat
Whose wandering is done —
Fort mit der Schranke, Tod!
Die Herde kommt, es kommt,
wer blökte und nun nimmer blökt,
wer nicht mehr wandert, kommt.
[Away with the bar, Death!
The Herd comes in, they come
who bleated and now never bleat,
who no more wander, come.]
Even without knowing German, we can grasp Celan’s syllables and accents: “Let down/ the bars, / Oh Death — ,” Fort mit / der Schrank- / e, Tod! (Schranke has two syllables.) Then “The tire- / d Flocks / come in,” Die Her- / de kommt, / eskommt. (Herde has two syllables.) These two English and German lines have six syllables first, then a third line with eight, and the forth has six again. Perfect balance, rhythm, and sound.
A century after Emily Dickinson, Celan shared her solitary, baffled, spiritual yearning and her sense that death dwells close and poems speak truth, if anything can.
However! Look at the first line in each language. Dickinson’s “Let down the bars, O Death —” opens with that desperate wish. Celan’s line is blunt command. His Fort mit der Schranke doesn’t say “Let down . . . ” but “Off with . . .” or “Away with the bar.” And Emily’s gentle Psalm-like “O Death —” comes out in rough German: Tod!“ Death!”—plus that added exclamation point. After which we hear Celan’s third kommt!
Dickinson’s second stanza opens tenderly, addressing death. This time her translator finds equivalence, pure likeness:
Thine is the stillest night
Dein ist die stillste Nacht
No need for reinventing what happens in the original. Every word is cognate, related: “Thine” = Dein, “is” = ist, “the” = die, “stillest” = stillste, “night” = Nacht. We should be so lucky. Though Dickinson’s poems are perfect, that didn’t deter Celan from translating again and again according to his axiom, “In a poem, what’s real happens!”
Thine is the stillest night,
Thine the securest fold:
Too near thou art for seeking thee,
Too tender to be told.
Dein ist die stillste Nacht,
der sichre Pferch ist dein.
Zu nah bist du, um noch gesucht,
zu sanft, genannt zu sein.
[Thine is the stillest night,
the surer fold is thine.
Too near thou art to yet be sought,
too tender, to be named.]
With every word cognate in the first line, either the English or the German could have come first. But Dickinson’s soothing parallel—“Thine . . . / Thine . . .”—is inverted by Celan, as if a translation must bear inversely on its source. Of course, the upcoming rhyme counts here, because Celan’s dein (“thine”) is moving toward sein (“to be”).
What is lost is Dickinson’s odd doubling of Death as subject and object: “Too near thou art for seeking Thee.” What is gained is the delay of sein, Celan’s final verb of being, which almost counteracts death. Just one more surprise awaits us in his closing syllables. Death for him is too tender not to be “told” but “named.” “Praise the name of the Lord,” the Psalmist says.
/ John Felstiner, World Literature Today
titelt Jeffrey Meyers im New Criterion und meint
Sylvia’s German roots pervaded her life and work.
Der Artikel referiert ihre deutschen und mecklenburgischen Wurzeln:
Sylvia Plath was born into German culture. Her father, Otto Emil Plath, was born in Grabow, northeast Germany, soon after Otto von Bismarck became chancellor of the modern German Empire. The son of Ernestine Kottke and Theodore Plath, a farmer and blacksmith, Otto emigrated to America in 1901, when he was sixteen.
(mehr nur für Abonnenten)
Als ihr Vater starb, war sie noch Kind. Ihr Gedicht “Daddy” erzählt in gewisser Weise die Fortführung:
by Sylvia Plath
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
Hier einschlägige Texte, Zitate, Links und Meinungen
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Many poets have attempted to describe the way in which flocks of birds fly, as if they were steered by a single consciousness. In the following poem, David Allan Evans gives us a new metaphor for the way light shows through the flying birds. Evans is Poet Laureate of South Dakota.
Sixty Years Later I Notice, Inside A Flock Of Blackbirds,
the Venetian blinds
I dusted off
for my mother on
closing, opening them
with the pull cord a few
times just to watch the outside
universe keep blinking,
as the flock suddenly
rises from November stubble,
hovers a few seconds,
blinking, before it tilts,
then vanishes over a hill.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by David Allan Evans from his most recent book of poems, the Carnival, the Life, Settlement House, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of David Allan Evans and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
POEMTALK is a collaboration of the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation. PoemTalk’s producer and host is Al Filreis, our engineers are James La Marre and Chris Martin, and our editor for every episode has been Steve McLaughlin, who is also podcasts editor of Jacket2. PoemTalk is also available on iTunes. Click this link to subscribe; or go to your iTunes music store and type “PoemTalk” in the search box.
For example #14:
PoemTalk listeners will want to stick around for the end of this show in particular, when Nada Gordon, a first-time PoemTalker, recites her flarfistic rewriting of Wallace Stevens’ late poem, “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself.” Meantime, of course, we give the poem a good going-through. The talkers this time, beside Nada, are Lawrence Joseph and Charles Bernstein, and we were (for the first time in PoemTalk’s short history) on the road, at Studio 92 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Anyone who deals with this poem has to understand the rhetorical gist of Stevens’s “like”: the cry he thinks he hears seemed “like” a sound in his mind; it was “like” a new knowledge of reality. Charles half-jokes that it’s anachronistically (and uncharacteristically) a 1960s like: a cool “very,” an intensifer, a pause. Al tries to stipulate that this is a Keats-at-the-casement poem: he’s inside, looking out and hearing minimal late-winter birdsong. But Larry believes firmly in the radical open-ness of this poem: we are neither inside nor out. There is no conventional place of standing. “Three times in the poem,” Nada has written elsewhere, “he says the sound was coming ‘from outside.’ But I don’t believe him. How can I believe this from a poet whose ‘actual candle blazed with artifice’?”
From: 20 modest proposals toward rethinking the act of reading a poem by Mark Yadich, The Atlantic
- Dispel the notion that reading poetry is going to dramatically change your life. Your life is continually changing; most of the time you’re simply too busy to pay enough attention to it. Poems ask you to pay attention—that’s all.
2 When you read a poem, especially a poem not meant to be a “spoken word” poem, always read it out loud. (Never mind what they said in grammar school—to subvocalize so that you won’t bother your peers.) Your ear will pick up more than your head will allow. That is, the ear will tell the mind what to think.
6 If you don’t know a word, look it up or die.
8 A poem has no hidden meaning, only “meanings” you’ve not yet realized are right in front of you. Discerning subtleties takes practice. Reading poetry is a convention like anything else. And you learn the rules of it like anything else—e.g., driving a car or baking a cake.
13 Perform marginalia. Reading without writing in the margins is like walking without moving your arms. You can do it and still reach your destination, but it’ll always feel like you’re missing something essential about the activity.
14 There is nothing really lost in reading a poem. If you don’t understand the poem, you lose little time or energy. On the contrary, there is potentially much to gain—a new thought, an old thought seen anew, or simply a moment separated from all the other highly structured moments of your time.
15 Poetry depends on pattern and variation—even non-linear, non-narrative, anti-poetic poetry. By perceiving patterns and variations on those patterns, your brain will attempt to make order out of apparent chaos. “Glockenspiel,” “tadpole,” and “justice” have ostensibly nothing to do with each other, and yet your brain immediately tries to piece them together simply because they are there for the apprehending.
16 As your ability to read poems improves, so will your ability to read the news, novels, legal briefs, advertisements, etc. A Starbucks poster a few years ago read:Friends are like snowflakes…each one is unique. How true. But isn’t snow also cold and ephemeral? Let’s hope our friends are not.
20 Reading a good poem doesn’t give you something to talk about. It silences you. Reading a great poem pushes further. It prepares you for the silence that perplexes us all: death.
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
I love a good ghost story, and here’s one about a ghost cat, by John Philip Johnson, who lives in Nebraska, where most ghosts live in the wind and are heard in the upper branches of cedar trees in country cemeteries. He has an illustrated book of poems, Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town.
Bones and Shadows
She kept its bones in a glass case
next to the recliner in the living room,
and sometimes thought she heard
him mewing, like a faint background music;
but if she stopped to listen, it disappeared.
Likewise with a nuzzling around her calves,
she’d reach absent-mindedly to scratch him,
but her fingers found nothing but air.
One day, in the corner of her eye,
slinking by the sofa, there was a shadow.
She glanced over, expecting it to vanish.
But this time it remained.
She looked at it full on. She watched it move.
Low and angular, not quite as catlike
as one might suppose, but still, it was him.
She walked to the door, just like in the old days,
and opened it, and met a whoosh of winter air.
She waited. The bones in the glass case rattled.
Then the cat-shadow darted at her,
through her legs, and slipped outside.
It mingled with the shadows of bare branches,
and leapt at the shadow of a bird.
She looked at the tree, but there was no bird.
Then he blended into the shadow of a bush.
She stood in the threshold, her hands on the door,
the sharp breeze ruffling the faded flowers
of her house dress, and she could feel
her own bones rattling in her body,
her own shadow trying to slip out.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2013 by John Philip Johnson and reprinted by permission of John Philip Johnson. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
This is our 500th weekly column, and we want to thank the newspapers who publish us, the poets who are so generous with their work, our sponsors The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department, and our many readers, in print and on line.
Almost every week I read in our local newspaper that some custodial parent has had to call in the law to stand by while a child is transferred to its other parent amidst some post-divorce hostility. So it’s a pleasure to read this poem by Elise Hempel, who lives in Illinois, in which the transfer is attended only by a little heartache.
His car rolls up to the curb, you switch
your mood, which doll to bring and rush
out again on the sliding steps
of your shoes half-on, forgetting to zip
your new pink coat in thirty degrees,
teeth and hair not brushed, already
passing the birch, mid-way between us,
too far to hear my fading voice
calling my rope of reminders as I
lean out in my robe, another Saturday
morning you’re pulled toward his smile, his gifts,
sweeping on two flattened rafts
from mine to his, your fleeting wave
down the rapids of the drive.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Elise Hempel and reprinted from Only Child, Finishing Line Press, 2014, by permission of Elise Hempel and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
Im März 2005 berichtete die Lyrikzeitung unter #65:
U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser hat auch einen Plan. Diesen Monat startet sein American Life in Poetry Project. Es bietet lokalen Zeitungen eine freie Kolumne mit einem Gedicht eines heutigen amerikanischen Dichters, eingeleitet von Ted Kooser. Er möchte zeigen, sagt er, daß Poesie weder einschüchternd noch unverständlich sein muß. / Seattle Post – Intelligencer 11.3.
Es stellte sich dann heraus, daß nicht nur lokale Zeitungen durften. Lyrikzeitung meldete sich an und war von Anfang an dabei. 500 Gedichte sind es nun. Nummer 1 war:
American Life in Poetry: Column 1
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
We all know that the manner in which people behave toward one another can tell us a lot about their private lives. In this amusing poem by David Allan Evans, Poet Laureate of South Dakota, we learn something about a marriage by being shown a couple as they take on an ordinary household task.
They live alone
she with her wide hind
and bird face,
he with his hung belly
They never talk
but keep busy.
Today they are
(each window together)
she on the inside,
he on the outside.
He squirts Windex
at her face,
she squirts Windex
at his face.
Now they are waving
to each other
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from Train Windows, Ohio University Press, 1976, by permission of the author, whose most recent book is The Bull Rider’s Advice: New and Selected Poems. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.