Monthly Archives: April 2017

Monday’s Verse 4/17/2017

Dear readers:

Gerald Stern has been one of my favorites since I first tripped over him about 20 years ago. Not that I’ve read deeply into any of his books — I’ve probably read about 1/3 of a collected poems my dad gave me for Christmas maybe, hm, maybe 15 years ago. "This Time" is one in the stack of books that makes up the MV twitter icon. It’s funny that my dad, who is neither a poetry writer nor a poetry reader, would give me a book by non-best-selling Gerald Stern. Perhaps the man who was born in April, 1937, in Pittsburgh, feels some kinship with the man who was born in 1925, in Pittsburgh. Of his own youth, Mr. Stern has said, "My family’s only been here 100 years. Exactly 100 years. And I grew up in Pittsburgh, American-raised, whatever the hell that means–to be American. But I realize now I’m somewhat of a foreigner." What does he mean, a foreigner? Living as a Jew in Pittsburgh? From a Jewish family, being of majority age as the U.S. turned away boats of Jewish refugees during the height of WWII (sending literally hundreds back to their deaths in concentration camps, rather than let them disembark on U.S. soil)? Does he mean adopting an outsider perspective on social life, lending just a touch of the surreal to even his most prosaic poems? Identifying more with European, rather than Anglo-American, strains of poetic art?

He’s a great Pittsburgher, hence his name anagram "Grand Steel’r." And my dad, who celebrated his 80th birthday last weekend, is too, and so I’m dedicating this edition to him: brand new work from a nonagenarian. Have a good week, -ed.

GELATO

The two nuns I saw I urged to convertto Luther or better yet to jointhe Unitarians, and the Jews Iencountered to think seriously aboutJesus, especially the Lubavitchers,and I interrupted the sewer workersdigging up dirt to ask themhow many spoonfuls of sugar theyput in their coffee and the runners intheir red silk to warn them aboutthe fake fruit in their yogurt sinceto begin with I was in such a goodmood this morning, I waited patientlyfor the two young poets driving over fromJersey City to talk about the late Fortiesand what they were to me when I was their age andwe turned to Chinese poetry and Kenneth Rexroth’s“Hundred Poems” and ended uptalking about the Bollingen and Pound’sstupid admiration of Mussoliniand how our main poets were on the rightpolitically—most of them—unlike the Europeanand South American, and we climbed some stepsinto a restaurant I knew to buy gelatoand since we were poets we went by the names,instead of the tastes and colors—and I stopped talkingand froze beside a small tree since I wasolder than Pound was when he went silentand kissed Ginsberg, a cousin to the Rothschilds,who had the key to the ghetto in his pocket,one box over and two rows up, he told me.
-2017

Monday’s Verse 4/10/2017

Dear readers,

strolling through the Rutgers New Brunswick campus yesterday, after running many miles with my friend and founding MV member Mike Scrudato, I wondered if Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) had ever been a teacher there. Turns out he had a contentious relationship with the place. He enrolled in 1951, but left after 1 year to attend Howard University. After he burst onto the scene as a creator of a distinctly black nationalist poetics (after dabbling in avant-garde and beat alliances), he returned to Rutgers as a visiting professor, but left the school when the full faculty senate narrowly denied his appointment to full professor. Because of his full commitment to various social and global causes–not all of them popular–controversy followed him. After his appointment as Poet Laureate of New Jersey in the 2000’s, the New Jersey legislature tried to strip him of the title. Finding no legislative tool for removing such a gubernatorial appointment, they instead did away with the position altogether. Damn shame for a state with a rich poetic past and present.

Baraka was born Everett Leroi Jones, and published under his birth name prior to adopting a more radical political stance. In addition to poems, he wrote plays, novels, short stories, political essays, and music criticism. In the poem below you sense some of the cold fury in his poems — though this one is a little more abstracted than some of his famous pieces — and also, perhaps, some of what makes his poems "not for everyone." -ed.

AN AGONY. AS NOW.

I am inside someone

who hates me. I look

out from his eyes. Smell

what fouled tunes come in

to his breath. Love his

wretched women.

Slits in the metal, for sun. Where

my eyes sit turning, at the cool air

the glance of light, or hard flesh

rubbed against me, a woman, a man,

without shadow, or voice, or meaning.

This is the enclosure (flesh,

where innocence is a weapon. An

abstraction. Touch. (Not mine.

Or yours, if you are the soul I had

and abandoned when I was blind and had

my enemies carry me as a dead man

(if he is beautiful, or pitied.

It can be pain. (As now, as all his

flesh hurts me.) It can be that. Or

pain. As when she ran from me into

that forest.

Or pain, the mind

silver spiraled whirled against the

sun, higher than even old men thought

God would be. Or pain. And the other. The

yes. (Inside his books, his fingers. They

are withered yellow flowers and were never

beautiful.) The yes. You will, lost soul, say

‘beauty.’ Beauty, practiced, as the tree. The

slow river. A white sun in its wet sentences.

Or, the cold men in their gale. Ecstasy. Flesh

or soul. The yes. (Their robes blown. Their bowls

empty. They chant at my heels, not at yours.) Flesh

or soul, as corrupt. Where the answer moves too quickly.

Where the God is a self, after all.)

Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,

white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.

It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton

you recognize as words or simple feeling.

But it has no feeling. As the metal, is hot, it is not,

given to love.

It burns the thing

inside it. And that thing

screams.

-1964

Monday’s Verse 4/3/2017

Welcome to National Poetry Month!

Yevgeny Yevtushenko gained massive fame following the Stalin years of oppression, declaiming his poems in concert halls and sports stadiums for young Russians just as fearful and optimistic about the future as he was. He died this week at 83. In 1962 he performed 250 poetry readings and appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He even did a stint teaching at Queens College-CUNY, a campus I know a little something about. He was also a Jew who received commendations from international Jewish groups and composed poems of remembrance for important events in Jewish history, such as the 1941 massacre at Babi Yar, near Kiev. Here is his poem "Stalin’s Heirs", translated by George Reavey. -ed.

STALIN’S HEIRS

Mute was the marble. Mutely glimmered the glass.
Mute stood the sentries, bronzed by the breeze.
Thin wisps of smoke curled over the coffin.
And breath seeped through the chinks
as they bore him out the mausoleum doors.
Slowly the coffin floated, grazing the fized bayonets.
He also was mute- his embalmed fists,
just pretending to be dead, he watched from inside.
He wished to fix each pallbearer in his memory:
young recruits from Ryazan and Kursk,
so that later he might collect enough strength for a sortie,
rise from the grave, and reach these unreflecting youths.
He was scheming. Had merely dozed off.
And I, appealing to our government, petition them
to double, and treble, the sentries guarding this slab,
and stop Stalin from ever rising again
and, with Stalin, the past.
I refer not to the past, so holy and glorious,
of Turksib, and Magnitka, and the flag raised over Berlin.
By the past, in this case, I mean the neglect
of the people’s good, false charges, the jailing of innocent men.
We sowed our crops honestly.
Honestly we smelted metal,
and honestly we marched, joining the ranks.
But he feared us. Believing in the great goal,
he judged all means justified to that great end.
He was far-sighted. Adept in the art of political warfare,
he left many heirs behind on this globe.
I fancy there’s a telephone in that coffin:
Stalin instructs Enver Hoxha.
From that coffin where else does the cable go!
No, Stalin has not given up. He thinks he can cheat death.
We carried him from the mausoleum.
But how remove Stalin’s heirs from Stalin!
Some of his heirs tend roses in retirement,
thinking in secret their enforced leisure will not last.
Others, from platforms, even heap abuse on Stalin
but, at night, yearn for the good old days.
No wonder Stalin’s heirs seem to suffer
these days from heart trouble. They, the former henchmen,
hate this era of emptied prison camps
and auditoriums full of people listening to poets.
The Party discourages me from being smug.
‘Why care? ‘ some say, but I can’t remain inactive.
While Stalin’s heirs walk this earth,
Stalin, I fancy, still lurks in the mausoleum.