“i don’t remember who
i was before we met
and now that you’re
gone where am i?
where there’s no
one like you and
the me i used to
be is equally
-Garrett Caples, from “Ten Ten-Line Poems for Philip Lamantia”—
I set off, I took up the march and never knew where it might take me. I went full of fear, my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing: I think it was the icy wind of the dead. I don’t know. I set off, I thought it was a shame to leave so soon, but at the same time I heard that mysterious and convincing call. You either listen or you don’t, and I listened and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound, born on the air and in the sea. A sword and shield. And then, despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek against death’s cheek. And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing that strange spectacle, slow and strange, though fixed in such a swift reality: thousands of guys like me, baby-faced or bearded, but Latin American, all of us, brushing cheeks with death. -Roberto Bolaño, translated by Laura Healy
“I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail”
-Adrienne Rich, from “Diving into the Wreck”—(via awritersruminations)
“You have got to sometimes become the medicine you want to take. You have got to, absolutely got to put your face into the gash and sniff, and lick. You have got to learn to get sick. You have got to reestablish the integrity of your emotions so that their violence can become a health and so that you can keep on becoming. There is no sacrifice. You have got to want to live. You have got to force yourself to want to.”
-Ariana Reines, from “Advertisement”—
Charles Bernstein’s poem “Recalculating” features passages on poetry, the tragic suicide of Bernstein’s daughter, Emma Bee Bernstein, and the poet’s own mourning process. Here are some of my favorite passages:
-Every poem is a model of a possible world that only comes into being when reading is active, activated.
-The poem is a constant transformation of itself.
-We didn’t have it when we needed it, but got it once we didn’t.
-Language is an albatross, a sullen cross, a site of loss.
-I think of Emma climbing the icy rocks of our imagined world and taking a fatal misstep, one that in the past she could have easily managed, then tumbling, tumbling; in my mind she is yet still in free fall, but I know all too well she hit the ground hard.
The hardest thing is not to look back, the endless if onlys, the uninvited what could have beens. I live not with foreknowledge but consequences; wishing I had foreknowledge, suffering the consequences of not.
… how poems become sites for mourning—not in fixed ritual repetitions (prescribed liturgy) but as mobile and specific areas for reflection and projection, holding areas, havens. Not words received for comfort but works actively discovered in the course of searching.
Not to “get over” (as a disease) but as a way of “living with” (as a condition).
-Poems are stuck in black and white, which means that every color connected to a poem is proof of the inner life of words.
-Every misfigured thought a dialect of its moment. (Say! Don’t you speak in a dialect too?)
Sometimes I am disturbed even by my ability to function. I feel, at times, a shell of myself; a shell of a shell of myself.
Each day I know less than the day before. People say that you learn something from such experiences, but I don’t want that knowledge and for me there are no fruits to these experiences, only ashes. I can’t and don’t want to “heal”; perhaps, though, go on in the full force of my disabilities, coexisting with a brokenness that cannot be accommodated, in the dark.
Right after Emma died I could not stand to look at the photos of her—and there are lots, because she made so many self-portraits. I felt each photo was a lie—flaunting her presence in the face of her being gone. Now I see that the photographs are what she left me—that she is present to me in the way these haunted and haunting works are present.
-Poetry should be silent, unread, invisible, inconceivable. The true poem can never be written or heard.
-Not ideas but the idea of ideas; not questions but the inadequacies of answers; not currency but against the tides.
-It’s what I’d like to undo that keeps me up at night.
-Orphaned by the world, with no home but there.
-So much of what we can’t imagine we are forced to experience. And even then we can’t imagine it.
-This is the difference between a sentence and paradise. A sentence comes to an end, paradise has no beginning.
-What’s unseen but said’s as consequent as what’s apparent but unspoken. Words perform for inner eye we o’erlook at pleasure’s peril.
Listening for inaudible songs in a sonic sea, I lost my bearings, falling, uncaring, into traps of my own despairing.
Always treat advice with skepticism (especially this advice).
-My advice to young poets is always: Start your own magazine or press & publish your own work and those of your contemporaries whose poems seem most crucial for the art, as you perceive it. And respond as much as possible, through poetics and reviews, to this work. Articulate its values, value its articulations. The web certainly makes such publishing easier, but it does not solve the hardest part, finding a community of other poets that allows for active and intense exchange, not based just on location or prior friendship or like- mindedness, but on the qualities and quiddities of the work as it unfolds in time and space, on earth and in the heavens of our “image nations.”
-I’ve grown so accustomed to the dark that I can hardly imagine anything more than shadows.
-The absence of ornament is an ornament.
-Here’s the message: There is no message.
-It’s always darkest at night. A darkness day can’t touch.
But we learn to live with it or anyway it learns to live with us.
-It may be impossible but the concept is that we articulate our judgments, preferences, and beliefs while being aware that these are not universally shared; this holds a special problem for those whose beliefs include a belief in the universality of their beliefs.
The cause of the cold is not the cold.
We live facing the blinding sun of the not-yet born, in the shade of the dead. Meaning is the liminal space where the dead live in us as we look toward the future.
“Years add up to something, but they do not add up to the world, they do not add up to the self in the world. Who am I when I say ‘I’? Not a container, not a vessel, filling over the course of a life with evidence of having lived it.”
-Dan Beachy-Quick, “The Hut of Poetry”—
I used to hate sitting in my apartment,
night after night, hearing murmurings
in the apartments around me; now
I stare at the endless, sunshot blue
and try to imagine walls.”
-Jason Koo, from “Man On Extremely Small Island”—
“What I needed was to see your breath
Make a signal in the air,
Something old fashioned, frontier even–
Three consecutive puffs of cloud
Lifting off the mesa, sending the vanguard
Scurrying back to their forts,
But a more seasoned scout knowing to wait
Patiently among the rocks till the sun sank
And it was time to move out.
I saw the smoke for what it was.
I recognized the language and took a deep breath.
I wanted to declare
-Stephen Rodefer, from “Mientras Tomo una Taza de Café”—
The thing most feared in secret always happens. I write: Oh Thou, have mercy. And Then? All it takes is a little courage. The more the pain grows clear and definite, the more the instinct for life asserts itself and the thought of suicide recedes. It seemed easy when I thought of it. Weak women have done it. It takes humility, not pride. All this is sickening. Not words. An act. I won’t write any more. -Cesare Pavese’s last diary entry. From The Burning Brand.
"to go without comes naturally to me now, it costs me almost nothing anymore. I have let them go for so long, and so profoundly, that if you asked me about it I couldn’t say exactly what they were and if I really wanted them. Their place inside my head is empty. Even the sense of missing them has left no trace.” -From “Face” by Umberto Fiori. Translation by Alistair Elliot.
When on a beloved face you catch a glimpse of the sign of too many seasons and a vein, much too dark, stretches out into the room, when the cuts of life well up, a host of them, and the blood slows inside the wrists that we’ve held tight until dawn, it’s not only there that the swelling current stops, then it is night, it is night on every face we have loved.
-Milo De Angelis (Translation by Patrizio Ceccagnoli and Susan Stewart)
The voice does not connect, does not reach all the way between us like a phon in water instead it stops like a circuit breaker flipped on or off at random. The two of us are a country under embargo, living on parentheses and silences, on blackouts, so that when the lights finally come on again, we have already forgotten what to say to each other.
“All night I hear
so many echoes in the forest I’m tempted
to look back, to save myself in hindsight,
where all I see is the absence of me.
Where all I hear is your voice”
-Chard deNiord, from “This Ecstasy”—
And then we cowards who loved the whispering evening, the houses, the paths by the river, the dirty red lights of those places, the sweet soundless sorrow— we reached our hands out toward the living chain in silence, but our heart startled us with blood, and no more sweetness then, no more losing ourselves on the path by the river— no longer slaves, we knew we were alone and alive.
-“And Then We Cowards” by Cesare Pavese. Translated By Geoffrey Brock.
The beautiful plate I cracked in half as I wrapped it in tissue paper— as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.
This river, which is life, which is wayfaring. This river, which is also sky. This dipper, full of mind, which is
not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling of the elderly. Not only
the scales, beaks, and teeth of creatures, but also their imaginative names (elephant, peacock) and their love of one another, the excited preparations they sometimes make for their own deaths.
It is as if some graceful goddess, wandering in the dark, desperate with thirst, bent down and dropped that dipper clumsily in this river. It floated away. Consciousness, memory, sensory information, the historians and their glorious war... The pineal gland, tiny pinecone in the forehead, our third eye: Of course
it will happen here. No doubt. Someday, here,
in this little house, they will lay the wounded side by side. The blood will run into the basement through the boards. Their ghosts are already here, along with the cracked plate wrapped in old paper in the attic,
and the woman who will turn one day at the window to see a long strange line of vehicles traveling slowly toward her door, which
she opens (what choice does she have?) although she has not yet been born.
“This is my understanding of writing: to write in order to disappear, so that life is revealed to me, without me, my face at last more blurred than the whiteness of the paper, bereft of reflection. A world where one can forget oneself. Not a mirror, but a stone.”
“Reality is not an enduring thing, it needs our protection. Buildings collapse, entire worlds disappear. Language can from time to time dig a hospitable hole, in which nothing is superfluous, it can put up a perimeter fenced within which things and people can breathe side by side, enjoy the light, and survive.”
This language has no innocence – listen to how speeches break up as if also here there were a war a different war but war all the same – in a time of drought.
And so I write with reluctance with a few dry stumps of phrases boxed into humdrum language which I arrange so as to call out down there as far as the dark that sounds the bells
There’s a window in the night with two dark shapes asleep dun as birds whose bodies draw back against the sky.
I write with patience to the eternity I don’t believe in. Slowness comes to me from silence and from a freedom – invisible – which the mainland’s unaware of – the island of a thought which spurs me to rein in time to give it space inventing the desert for that language.
The word splits like wood like a piece of wood cracked on one side part the effect of fire part of neglect.
To those who asked him the difference between being sad and being heart-broken, Nachman answered that being heart-broken was not an obstacle to joy.
(Nachman of Breslaw)
Is the letter of silence and serpents, of sage serenity, of the soft sounds with which one asks people to be silent. The lips pout, the tongue remains a prisoner of the ring of teeth.
Nocturnal silence. When you get up in the summer darkness and trees are left without wind beyond the wide open door. When the rooms breath softly and the sea joins the geraniums. Red and cobalt and more red in the lighthouses of the port in the ferry-boats that glitter and wait.
Morning silence. A quality of the footsteps on the paving of the voices. It is the sound of the shutters that rise over the intact shops: a sign of peace the announcement of the shofar within the day.
Silent sun over blankets, over pavements over breakfast cups and the enamelling of the tray Yes. Not blessed enough every silent and live awakening not yet sick not yet slave.
Accept this silence: the word caught in the dark of the throat like a stiffened animal, like the stuffed boar that sparkled in the cellar during October storms. Livid and woven with straw, the dry heart, smokeless, yet against the flash of lightning that nailed the door, each time in the same exact point where death had begun: the futile backstepping, body aflame, the hunter’s kick on its side.
Close your eyes. Think: hare and fox and wolf, call the beasts, chased down they race over the flatlands and are in the slingshot of dying or falling asleep exhausted inside the den where only the hunted know true night, true breath.
“I lost my way, I forgot to call on your name. The raw heart beat against the world, and the tears were for my lost victory. But you are here. You have always been here. The world is all forgetting, and the heart is a rage of directions, but your name unifies the heart, and the world is lifted into its place.” -Leonard Cohen, “Poem 50”— (via beautyisanillusion)
“I’ve wounded myself with love- I’ve snapped bones, they leak marrow, I’m flat on my back. And this self-destruction, these difficulties mean nothing, my dear.” - Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf, from “Disorientation” via Poetry Translation Centre (adapted from the lovely indigenousdialogues)”—