Monthly Archives: October 2010

Oct. 25, 2010: EVERYTHING THAT ACTS IS ACTUAL (Denise Levertov)

I know, I know, I should just start calling it Every Other Monday’s Verse.

The Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect on October 24, 1938,
about a year after my dad was born. It set minimum wage and maximum
hour standards for American workers. October 24 is also the birthday
of poet Denise Levertov, Ms. “delve into verse” herself. She’s
sometimes called a metaphysical poet, as much for her preoccupation
with spirituality and religion as for any connection with the much
earlier group of English writers. The sense of an otherworld touching
ours is apparent in her lines here, “You lived, but somewhere else,/
your presence touched others, ring upon ring,/ and changed.” I’m not
sure what to make of the moon in this poem, but if anyone likes the
challenge of metaphor please jump in. I do like the Keats reference,
though. Have a good week. Don’t work too many hours. -ed.

EVERYTHING THAT ACTS IS ACTUAL

From the tawny light
from the rainy nights
from the imagination finding
itself and more than itself
alone and more than alone
at the bottom of the well where the moon lives,
can you pull me

into December? a lowland
of space, perception of space
towering of shadows of clouds blown upon
clouds over
new ground, new made
under heavy December footsteps? the only
way to live?

The flawed moon
acts on the truth, and makes
an autumn of tentative
silences.
You lived, but somewhere else,
your presence touched others, ring upon ring,
and changed. Did you think
I would not change?

The black moon
turns away, its work done. A tenderness,
unspoken autumn.
We are faithful
only to the imagination. What the
imagination
seizes
as beauty must be truth. What holds you
to what you see of me is
that grasp alone.

Oct. 11, 2010: POEMA PARA LA EXORCISTA or POEM FOR THE EXORCIST (Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Matthew Lamberti)

How psyched was I to find out that Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Arequipa, Peru? The second city, la ciudad blanca, the town at the foot of the Andes whose geography looks as if it was sculpted by the crater left when the moon separated from the earth, the home of Arequipeña, and my home during July-August 2008. Vargas Llosa has made his name more as a politically-engaged novelist, but I managed to find this somewhat recent poem, which appears first in Spanish and then in English. Have a good week, -ed.

***

Poema para la Exorcista

Mi vida parece sin misterio y
monótona
a quienes me ven
de paso a la oficina
en las mañanas apuradas.
La verdad es muy distinta.
Cada noche debo salir a pelear
contra un espíritu malvado
que, valiéndose de
disfraces -perro, grillo,
nube, lluvia, vago,
ladrón- trata de
infiltrarse en la ciudad
para estropear la vida humana
sembrando
la discordia.
A pesar de sus disfraces yo
siempre lo descubro
y lo espanto.
Nunca ha conseguido engañarme
ni vencerme.
Gracias
a mí, en esta ciudad
todavía es posible
la felicidad.
Pero los combates nocturnos me
dejan exhausta y magullada.
En pago de mis
refriegas contra el enemigo,
les pido unas sobras
de afecto y amistad.

Nueva York, 2001

Poem for the Exorcist

My life seems to be without mystery and
monotonous
to those who come to me,
stepping into my office
these hectic mornings.
The truth is quite different:
Each night I spend fighting
a malevolent spirit
that, valiant in
disguises–dog, cricket,
cloud, rain, idleness,
thief–tries to
infiltrate the city
to spoil human life,
sowing discord.
Mulling its disguises, I
always discover it
and scare it away.
It has never deceived
or defeated me.
Thanks
to me, happiness
is always possible
in this city.
But these nightly battles
leave me bruised and exhausted.
As pay for my
scuffles with the enemy,
I plead with it for any leftovers
of affection and friendship.

New York, 2001
trans. M. Lamberti

Oct. 3, 2010: CONTRARY THEMES (II) (Wallace Stevens)

And how did you all celebrate Wallace Stevens’ birthday on Saturday? I usually spend it adjusting insurance claims, but yesterday I watched college football instead (rooting, of course, for Harvard, his alma mater). We just had a surprise treat of some Wallace Stevens thanks to Ellen’s reply, but I can’t resist reading a little more given the anniversary. By the way he was born in 1879 in Reading not Massachusetts, but Pennsylvania. I’ve always found it funny how he was a lawyer and insurance executive for his entire life, and yet an award-winning poet all along (well, he published his first collection at 43, so maybe not ALL along). Not just any poet, but one of the wackiest of the very wacky 20th century. And I never knew about how he reconciled those things until I cribbed this from the Writer’s Almanac website:

He claimed that “poetry and surety claims aren’t as unlikely a combination as they may seem. There’s nothing perfunctory about them for each case is different.” Each day, he walked the two miles between his office and home, where he lived with his wife and daughter. During these walks to and from work, he composed poetry. He would only let people walk with him if they didn’t talk.

It’s funny–his poems are pretty cerebral, and of course they never really make sense, at least on a first read, and yet when I go back to the ones I really love–The Rabbit as King of the Ghosts, the Snow Man, The Man with the Blue Guitar, 13 Ways…–I’m always reminded of how moving they are. There’s something grand in his poems, but it’s something sought, something reached for. I guess I find that irreducibly human. I had never really read or noticed this one before, but the observation applies equally.

I have nothing to say about the following except to remind us that an Alexandrine is a six-footed iambic line. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. -ed.

Contrary Theses (II)

One chemical afternoon in mid-autumn,

When the grand mechanics of earth and sky were near;

Even the leaves of the locust were yellow then,

He walked with his year-old boy on his shoulder.

The sun shone and the dog barked and the baby slept.

The leaves, even of the locust, the green locust.

He wanted and looked for a final refuge,

From the bombastic intimations of winter

And the martyrs a la mode. He walked toward

An abstract, of which the sun, the dog, the boy

Were contours. Cold was chilling the wide-moving swans.

The leaves were falling like notes from a piano.

The abstract was suddenly there and gone again.

The negroes were playing football in the park.

The abstract that he saw, like the locust-leaves, plainly:

The premiss from which all things were conclusions,

The noble, Alexandrine verve. The flies

And the bees still sought the chrysanthemums’ odor.