A friend writes me a note mentioning “Concentration” by John Wieners from Nerves (1970), a poem I go back and reread, discovering as always with Wieners a new avenue, lines that pull toward an occult heaviness lightened by his impeccable control of each line:
“In a bus station
listening to voices
pretending they’re yours.
Poetry is a trance
A tone one hears in various singers, disparate generations hinging on each other’s inflections. Ian Curtis borrowing stances and tones from Jim Morrison, Morrison Hotel and The Soft Parade on my stereo. Tragedy becoming a footnote to the accomplishments of verse, a hope or desire to echo in a few ears.
Finished reading Peter Gizzi’s The Outernationale (Wesleyan, 2007) this afternoon. It’s the first book of his I’ve read, though his poems have caught my attention for years now. The excellent “Poem for John Wieners” he published in The Blind See Only This World (Pressed Wafer, 2000). In January 2006, the London Review of Books published two poems I now find in The Outernationale, one of which I remember reading in Boston, attuned to it’s evocation of a Massachusetts winter morning, the weariness of approaching work half awake under imminent rays (“luminous silvery”), “Wintry Mix”:
“Work and more,
send us into the draft.”
I read this book with great interest as it relates to how the political inhabits the lyric, without degenerating into pamphlet or preaching. There are also geographical concerns, rural Massachusetts and what I project onto certain moments, the light & sounds of forests I visualize via memory. The book begins with a sequence of short stanzas fantastically threaded, jarring fluidity:
“If I forget my notebook
if these gaps I feel are also the gaps
I am built inside, thinking it’s all good”
I’m still reading Régis Debray’s memoir Praised Be Our Lords (Verso, 2007), which remains oddly impersonal, more a philosophical remembrance than a personal one. He does mention his friendships with Oswaldo Barreto and Roque Dalton in Venezuela, Cuba and Czechoslovakia, but doesn’t ever elucidate beyond general observations. He also mentions Dariel Alarcón Ramírez (Benigno), one of the few survivors of Che Guevara’s Bolivian excursion, who now lives in Paris and has written the brilliant memoir Memorias de un soldado cubano (Tusquets, 1997), which was transcribed and edited by Debray’s ex-wife Elizabeth Burgos. Like Alarcón Ramírez, Debray offers a critical analysis of the Cuban revolution in its downward spiral from liberation to tyranny. Debray describes his gradual disenchantment with Fidel Castro which took several years, and chides his own youthful fanaticism, his belief that the Cuban revolution was a sacred endeavor. He reveals it to be simply one more Latin American dictatorship, albeit one with an international scope never before seen in the region.
Where do I locate poetry within this notion of “revolution” that I see so many people associate with Venezuela today? Maybe I see poetry as an antidote to idiocy, though I doubt most international partisans of Chavismo will be able to rid themselves of their illusions regarding Venezuela. Poetry is counterrevolutionary in the sense that it annuls hierarchies, dissolves hubris. It is always considered suspicious, irrelevant or decadent to those who seek to impose their utopian hallucinations on the masses.
True “revolutionaries” exist on much humbler levels, on ignored pages, in e-mails, handwritten or typed letters, daily actions of courage and beauty outside the field of political marketing. The “revolutionary” quality of John Wieners’s verse is for me nonpareil, as when he writes at the end of “Concentration”:
“Other humans seem alien
to your presence, they’re believed to,
it’s a condition of gradual loss
of reality until there’s only left
this shattering of the world.”
But eventually, at least for me, the word “revolution” and all its variations has become a tedious, oppressive word, utterly destroyed by its own mythologies and overuse. May it receive its necessary burial.
Among the poets I’ve had the fortune to read recently is Mónica de la Torre, her first collection in English, Talk Shows (Switchback Books). It’s a fantastic book, eloquent & witty. Her poem “On Translation” begins:
“Not to search for meaning, but to reenact a gesture, an intent.”
I’ll be away from the Internet most of July, this space will fall silent until August (dear handful of readers). Trying to write in whatever shapes work best for the ideas one hopes to translate. Edible, indelible music. The lessons found in the pulsing movement of trees, once a ghostly tremor now real and practical as a notebook.