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September 2005

A Freckle on The Nose: Poetry Over Prose

Contemporary poetry in translation can seem doubly daunting, but fortunately we have a revelatory guide for the perplexed in Ilya Kaminsky. Here he presents our first "all poetry, all the time" main feature celebrating Gloria Fuertes's vigor, Zafer Senocak and Zehra Çirak's new myths, Luis García Montero's playfulness, Daniil Kharms's theatrics of marvel and Göran Sonnevi's passionate curiosity.

As Ilya points out, there are striking similarities in this issue. Ioan Flora's Eastern European science fiction-in-verse is worlds away from Silvina Ocampo's "Infinite Horses," or Milo De Angelis's elegiac "Mute Map," yet represents the same sort of longing. Tristan Tzara's "Friend midear," exclaims "It is a beautiful thing to be in a poem," and so Mansur Rajih's poem declares-against all geopolitical odds-"Yemen is a happy country." With similar exuberance, Karim Fawzi, in a poem written just after the American invasion of Iraq, speaks of berries and Baghdad, and of beating his present existence "with the cane of departure". Finally, Valzyna Mort's poetry may define the way in which we Americans think of literature from Belarus in the years to come.

Thanks to co-editor Alissa Valles on the ground in Warsaw, we have an extraordinary "Polish corner" of work never before seen in English.

Inveterate prose-o-philes will be missing transformative discoveries ("the seeds of rare flowers/to develop your literary taste"), but may click on the three features below.

A Note from the Poetry Editor
By Ilya Kaminsky
Poets must speak of their time, Czeslaw Milosz often told his students. And so they, in very different ways, do. Karim Fawzi, in a poem dated June 9th, 2003, speaks of berries and Baghdad, and of beating…
On the Hoof
The question about this fact-free life brimming with great notions is, can you live up to it? At dusk the megaphones get all confidential in the words of mountains the sun never scales. In the rising…
Translated from Polish
Rue de Poitiers
A late afternoon, snow is falling. Near the striking Musee d'Orsay you see a grey bundle on the edge of the sidewalk: a bum rolled up into a ball (or a refugee from some country plunged in civil war)…
Translated from Polish
“Is there anything on earth that has significance…”
“Is there anything on earth that has significance, and that could alter the run of events not only on earth but also in other worlds?” I asked my teacher. “There is,” he answered.…
Translated from Russian
Sweet, innocent
Sweet, innocent words, sweet, round phrases, from sweet, smooth rounded comma's pure poison seeps For the next poem in this sequence, click here.
Translated from Polish
The Fatherland
Do not despair, my friend: The light that shines on our land will remain chaste. We still have time. Maybe next year, the year after- it will be enough. We will see the new face of Eban smiling over our…
Translated from Norwegian
Prayer
Our Father who is on earth, whom I feel in the pine needle's prick, in the blue shirt of the worker, in the child bent over her embroidery, winding the thread around a finger. Our Father who is on…
Translated from Spanish
Return from Assisi
A mutilated Giotto. A loud: Silenzio! From a car transporting animals we passed on the way the helpless look of a calf being taken off to slaughter follows me. Help, Saint Francis. Appear before the slaughterhouse…
Translated from Polish
Ego
I my umbrella both of us gray with a fine wooden grip from hand to hand we go I and my trusty umbrella he's always at hand even when it's not raining but when the sun comes out I let him down
Translated from German
From “Konwalia”
1. Sunday, Kazimierz Market they have everything you can imagine here at least that's what it seems like though as usual everything amazes everyone with its poverty in fact i can't see myself…
Translated from Polish
I Write Poetry, Gentlemen!
I write poetry, gentlemen, I write poetry, but please don't call me poetess; I swig my wine like the bricklayers do and I have an assistant who talks to herself. This world's a strange place;…
Translated from Spanish
Tiresias’s Lesson
1. What futures do the oracular oaks predict for us, the prophetic cups, what horoscope do computers draw, whom do they allow to read to the end? On which continent do dolphins carry which islands to…
Translated from Polish
His Story
when there were no secret parts writing was devised on a woman's body no part left undescribed men and their dirty fingers mixed up one character with the other until the letters couldn't be read…
Translated from German
Special Section: Poland Unplugged
By Alissa Valles
On the other hand, maybe poetry can flout its own time, its own conventions, pieties, syntactical laws, aesthetic (anesthetic) canons and going definitions and habits. These are a few poets who think…
Translated from Polish
A Kiss
On the intergalactic station Malmorius, Jaspar the Terrible feverishly prepares for the decisive attack. Who knows where in the Central Desert of Athyria, Commander Z. checks the converters one by one,…
Translated from Romanian
After Rain
Brother and sister, inscrutable sphinx, noble snail: what fate are you inscribing in your uncertain hand on the airport runway, in the last fall of a murderous century? 2000 For the next poem in this…
Translated from Polish
Another Sky
An asphalt sky: your memory Your earth is only a body Time is a poem approaching Time is a poem withering Time is a poem dying & time is a wailing wall for poems and dreams Such is exile Your bottlenecked…
Translated from Norwegian
The Infinite Horses
I have seen them sleeping in the pastures, repeated through the fields, at rest; furious and on their knees I have seen them, like haughty gods, completely white, dressed and with ribbons, and wild with…
Translated from Spanish
The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest
How did you find yourself here, poor mummy of an Egyptian princess, exposed to alien stares? Now it is here you have your afterlife. I myself am a part of it for a moment, while I'm looking at you.…
Translated from Polish
PRODUCT VI (International Style)
By Tadeusz Pióro
I seetwo castlesone bright one dimone close the other farthe larger at the forest's edgethe smaller where the empty roadfrom market place to pointed firscomes to an endin the international styleaccording…
Translated from Polish by Tadeusz Pióro
“maybe you too sometimes fantasize”
maybe you too sometimes fantasize that god resembles your most difficult teacher the one who never gave the highest mark one day he invites your parents to school and who knows what he is telling them…
Translated from Belarusian
The Scent of Berries
Who among us belongs to another: Do you, with the wrinkled face? Or we, guardians of the road to no return? Or do we all, Baghdad, belong to the executioner? The scent of berries is still on my sleeve,…
Translated from Arabic
PRODUCT IV (Love and Death)
An anthologist from Berlin asks me for poems new or recognized: ideally, they should amplify the union of love and death. I'd like to suit her, since I'm dying, but love is a master from outer…
Translated from Polish
Now
Now I will tell you how the worms I kept in an empty soap carton and fed white mulberry leaves, changed themselves without my help, curling into scoops of color, and how later I watched them transform…
Translated from Spanish
Tiresias’s Farewell
From unexpiated sins poems are born. That's why you sent down thickening darkness on my eyes. A spiral staircase carries me to countries under the earth – republics of shadow, kingdoms of grayness.…
Translated from Polish
Calypso
The sea's color is green. The white sand is stained with blood. An old woman dies at the diner, underfed, under prepared. The telephone only takes phone cards. Some people are hard to recognize, even…
Translated from Polish
A Stone from New World
Only when I turned it over on its other side did I see that the heavy sandstone circle which looked like the top half of a mill, grindstone or the top of a well, had been taken from an old Jewish tombstone.…
Translated from Polish
“What would I wish for”
What would I wish for to be a small freckle on the wind's nose to ride in a convertible beside a middle-aged man a teenager will do it's as if everything that has happened is nothing but Customs…
Translated from Belarusian
Friend midear
Friend Midear, you won't understand but listen The pain I cannot weep into a handkerchief The words are somber like a procession of kings For your soul with sad, dry lakes I called you with lots of…
Translated from Romanian
Closer
Remember the very first time you did it tough wasn't the word. Turning the key, a sudden boardful of lights and music swelling behind our backs and acts of attention, you'd think the clothes would…
Translated from Polish
Reader in the Dark
You reach in the hour of sleep to put out the light, to feel for the lock of your door, and lowered curtain of the window. You leap like a cat up the stairs, slip underneath the blanket, and dream: That…
Translated from Arabic
Men
By Valzhyna Mort
Men arrive like a date on a calendarthey keep visiting once a monthmen who've seen the bottomof the deepest bottleskings of both earth and heavenand like the pearls from a torn necklacetrembling I…
Translated from Belarusian by Franz Wright
Belarusian
By Valzhyna Mort
IIeven our mothers have no idea how we got herehow we parted their legs and crawled out into the worldthe way you crawl from the ruins after a bombingwe couldn't tell which of us was a girl or a boyand…
Translated from Belarusian by Franz Wright
From “Mozart’s Third Brain”, CIV
I lay a light stone on my father's grave, a gray stone on the gray stone Hadn't planned to, it just happened Then I think: Now you have made him a Jew But then I realize that this is about one…
Translated from Swedish
from “Identity”
By Mansur Rajih
You who will murder me, wait.Look into my eyesbefore you begin—or end—It's the same for me.It might be that you reconsider.You, who are formed by remorsewhose breath is the issue of accident,imbibing…
Translated from Norwegian by Ren Powell
The Wound
By Mansur Rajih
“The sun also shines from here,”his finger pointing to his hearthis eyes rimmed with tears
Translated from Norwegian by Ren Powell
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