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THEthe Poetry and The Red Room Company are teaming up to share poems across the oceans. This collaboration introduces new audiences to the works of emerging and established poets from America and Australia. Weekly installments of poems, interviews and artworks will celebrate poetic observations from Brooklyn to Sydney and places between.

The Red Room Company is a not-for-profit poetry organisation founded in 2003 and based in Sydney. Their mission is to provide professional commission opportunities to contemporary Australian poets, particularly emerging voices. They present poetry to the wider community in engaging, unusual ways involving film, audio and installation. Since 2007, The Red Room Company has delivered Papercuts, their national poetry education program for primary and secondary schools. In 2010 the poetry education program was extended to Correctional Centres.

A

On my entire obscene face
there is something I’m trying
to achieve. It is colorless. It
is self-published. It is inner

fatigue. It is so superfluous!
It is part of an addiction I hate
and depend on. It naturally
enters into conversations.

It will induce a kind of slow
intuition. It will be sloppy
and corrugated. It will smell
pleasant. It will be animals

playing on a farm. It will be
completely alone. It will not
be so bad. It will be missing
out. It will have a vague sense

of relief. It will be committing
without action. It will be floating
on the surface of everything.
It will be an amorphous tedium.

It will be sleep. It will be a party.
It will be a good lunch and supper.
It will be a whole day and night.
It will be an indefinite field full of

universal life. It will be a giant lack
of noise. It will look like the cult
of humanity. It will look like it is
“only a manuscript” in a Johnny-

come-lately style. It will be hunched
over an illustration. It won’t tell.
It, strictly speaking, won’t exist,
full like a thing full of feeling.

___________________________________________
Simone Kearney’s poems can be found in Ragazine (forthcoming), Bridge Journal (forthcoming), Post Road Magazine, Elimae, Maggy, Sal Mimeo and Supermachine. She was a recipient of the Amy Awards from Poets & Writers Magazine in the fall of 2010. She works as a lecturer at Rutgers and Pace University, and writes for the Thierry-Goldberg Projects gallery in the Lower East Side. She is also a visual artist, and lives in Brooklyn.


Here’s a story right up my blogging alley. I’ve written quite a bit in the past on translation (about Horace and ESL/film), as well as bit on technology and language. I wrote about how Google used the insights of Wittgenstein to overcome the problem of polysemy in search, but ended questioning whether Google could ever overcome the complexities of poetry. Turns out Google has been laboring away at creating a machine translator of poetry.

If I understand it correctly, the poetry translator basically layers several poetic constraints on top of the standard translator: line length, rhyme, meter, etc. Google’s translator uses what Jaron Lanier calls a “brute force” approach to translation. That is, it doesn’t know the rules of grammar—it doesn’t even really have a dictionary. Rather, it scours its database and determines statistical correlation between translations of pages. Put another way, it imitates by means of statistical analysis.

Meta-lord of the cloud-lords of meta of!

Questions of quality aside (i.e., let’s assume Google can be completely successful and create passable—even good poetry translations), would you really prefer Google’s translations Rimbaud over, say, Ashbery’s? Aside from needing a translation in a pinch, I can only imagine an interest in Google’s translation that is analogous to the Turing test: an interest that asks the question “If I didn’t know—could I tell the difference between the results of computer and human translation?”

I have been reading Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget over the last few weeks. He makes a convincing point that Turing’s test is essentially the wrong question. Part of the function of asking “can it fool us?” is a desire to find a computer that can. As a result, we’re essentially willing to dumb down our expectations of what it means to be human in hopes we’ve created machines that think. Ironically, it’s our very human desires that make the Turing test fail. The real judge of the Turing test should be a computer with a merciless set of criteria. No doubt somebody, somewhere has already realized this, and there is a computer slaving away at creating and judging its own intelligence.

Which brings me back to the question: why do we want to read Ashbery’s translations of Rimbaud? I see two motivations: the first is to read Rimbaud without learning French; the second is to read Ashbery reading Rimbaud. Google doesn’t read. To say that it does would actually change the definition of reading, wouldn’t it? Reading implies not a functional end (e.g., Ashbery produces a translation of Rimbaud), since it can exist without a functional end (e.g., Ashbery reads Rimbaud in French).

Perhaps more importantly, Google doesn’t even use language in a way that we recognize as language. Some animals use what we would rightly be called protolanguage. They can acquire a vocabulary, and perhaps even use it in creative ways (I heard a story once about an ape that put two words together to ask for a watermelon: “candy water” or something along those lines). At best, though, animals can only mash together vocabulary, without what we could refer to as “syntax.” Syntax is the ability not only to acquire vocabulary, but to manipulate it according to a deeper intelligence that categorizes vocabulary. It’s the difference between “Micah smile” and “Micah smiles.” The latter indicates not only the fact that I have associated one thing with another (the action of smiling with the word “smile”), but that I can categorize it as a verb and thus deploy it in a sentence (oh the difference an “s” makes). This syntactic ability expands when we think about relative clauses, which nest and hierarchize ideas. We even have words for pure functions of language (e.g., articles). Animals are unable to do this (unless, of course, you’re teaching a gorilla that it will die someday—perhaps death is the motivator of syntax!). Google uses statistical analysis to achieve a kind of protolanguage at best. At best, it “learns” (a word also worth an essay) to associate certain phrases with one another. But, unlike animals, it has no will to use them.

All this is to say that there is something uniquely motivating about a person doing something. A Google poetry translation will never make me reconsider my life, except in a purely serendipitous (i.e., accidental) way.

I suppose deep down I am a personalist, believing there is something utterly unique and irreducible about persons. And I worry sometimes that the whole preoccupation with AI actually takes away from the real achievements of Google’s poetry translator: we clever people have found a way to essentially use an on-off switch (0s and 1s) to do something as complex as creating a passable translation of a poem. But as we are humans wont to do, we get distracted, venerating our creation rather than marveling at the deep mystery inside us which motivated us to create it in the first place.

Here’s a quick overview of the project if you’re interested in reading more about it. Here’s an interview about the project from CBC radio (scroll down to “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Digital Night”—below that one, there’s also another very interesting interview with a Canadian student who created a computer program to analyze rap lyrics).

Pissing

What part of life is in the weirdness
spreading illimitably around
what fits? At face level, as he
stood there, glaucous light was caught
in the clear plastic shower curtain.
This light came from the sun
by an obscure but direct path
through the airshaft. Look at it!
The body of the slender man slouched
forward like a bow. And his hand
pinched his cock over the trouser notch.
He hadn’t turned the light on, because, of course, he knew
where the gleam-smudge of the commode cupped its shadowed pool.
What a limp arrow and what an idle, slouching cupid!
Whom does he hope to transpierce? He touched
the plummeting fireflies of urine with his gaze and with thought.
Would he ever choose to pass this moment
if this were heaven where every action flows
in simple purposefulness from desire? However absurd and embarrassing,
he thought of love. All right…I did. The cloudy light
got into the curtain so slyly
it looked inherent, and it made the acid drippings
of penis gleam. A pelting or dropping of mad flies
against the flimsy shanty of purpose. Plains, weird vistas
ran from every wall of that shanty of thought,
and the crazed plastic over the windows crepitated.

What part of life retires into the ghostly regions around
each thing we think and do? I loved him, no doubt of it,
but something couldn’t be resolved. I’ll never forget
the way, when teased, I reddened and blew up:
“Shut up! Leave me alone! How can you be so cruel?
You’re playing with me. Are you? Playing with me?”
But I felt a sort of strength like, in olden days,
entrails strung on a line to cure. Weird, weird, the silence between us
ran out like plains. And his expression was as fathomable
as plastic alit. Would it now
be worth anything merely to pretend
to see his cloudy face in the blur of light
the plastic shower curtain caught?

What part of life have they hit on when they say
the rules of understanding sparsen and break off at the edges?
That the weirdness of the light might as well be his
ghost, because it may be too awful to speak of
if not called that? This is too much. I came to “do my duty”
and found “Shanty,” “Cupid,” penis. In the kitchen
I left stolid life behind. I left water on the stove top.
No boyfriend, teasing or otherwise, rattles the kettle,
though I hear its tinseled, pre-boil popping.
Mere crepitation? Or the sound from across vast plains of a love spell being cast
in a hail of mad, glinting darts?

Damn. Now I don’t want more coffee. That was a false start.
How scary that your actions will only approximate your desires!
It means your whole life history could be more shallow than you meant: coffee
when you also feel like something else, you’re not sure what.
In heaven it’s not that way. There, everything is wanted,
known and done in a bold stroke. No weird plains isolate
purpose. He will not be there. Nor love. All right and I?

____________________________________________________________
David McConnell is the author of the novels The Silver Hearted (2010) and The Firebrat (2003). His short fiction and journalism have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. He lives in New York City.

A work of art is a problem

It’s easy enough to read the thoughts of a newcomer:
the one who will come without appointment
remembering circles and maps of temperance.

Down the avenue of swift and invisible nudes
a thin, brittle demon the shade of an autumn leaf
is seeking imperfections.

Our prophets always speak too soon–
you know you want to own a picture of a man
carrying a drum made of human scalps.

Give me a little more time here–
A democracy of strangeness is
a reminder that the work of art presents not an expression

of identity but a problem
‘I prefer the films that put their audience to sleep in the theatre.’
Now–
I’d like a word or two from you.


_________________________________________________
Sridala Swami writes poetry, short fiction. Her first collection of poems, A Reluctant Survivor,was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award in 2008. She has written three books for very young children, which were published by Pratham in 2009. Swami was the 2011 Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence at The University of Stirling, Scotland.

The Blue Dress in Mother’s Closet

Her blue dress is a silk train is a river,
is water seeps into the cobblestone streets of my sleep, is still raining,
is monsoon brocade, is winter stars stitched into puddles,
is goodbye in a flooded antique room, is goodbye in a room of crystal bowls
and crystal cups, is the ring-ting-ring of water dripping from the mouths
of crystal bowls and crystal cups, is the Mississippi River is a hallway, is leaks
like tears from window sills of a drowned house, is windows open to waterfalls,
is a bed is a small boat is a ship, is a current come to carry me in its arms
through the streets, is me floating in her dress through the streets,
is only the moon sees me floating through the streets, is me in a blue dress
out to sea, is my mother is a moon out to sea.


__________________________________________________
Saeed Jones received his MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers University — Newark. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Jubilat, The Collagist & StorySouth. When the Only Light is Fire, his chapbook of poems, will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in November 2011.

To Women Waiting at the Gynecologist
-Anarcha’s Ballad

Deep inside this cabin, deeper
still into the darkness
arising like fumes, like odor
of woman, broke, harnessed

in a body, by the bodies
of men who believe me
animal, wild, and numb
because my body be

black, be able, be stank after
childbirth, ruined, cast out
into the woods to spoil alone.
My savior wears white coats

bends spoons, bends me, bends spoon
into my crouched hound of body.
White women rest easy in clean
sheets, while spoons scrape through me,

give me new hollows. He
will one day find, in me, how to
mold the tool, the pressure,
his, to relieve those precious as dew

drops settled on dove’s wings
will be gone. And you, innocent
you, lying on cool white
slabs, free legs ready, no remnants

of me in you until
you are pressed wide open, coffee
brewing in the next room,
kind instruments probing you softly.


____________________________________________
Jonterri Gadson is Debra’s daughter. She says that because she hopes she makes her mother proud. She likes funny men and men who find her funny. She’s currently laughing at the fact that she took this bio as an opportunity to solicit men, which she believes will also make her mother proud. All of this is made possible by Jonterri’s belief that the universe (and you, person who would actually read a bio) listens. She can be found tweeting at said universe about poetry, teaching, parenting, and her recent move to Iowa @jaytothetee.

3 Poems from “62 Sonnets” (1953)

30

I won’t let words rest.
At times they feel ashamed of themselves
and want to die, inside of me.
When that happens I’m in love.

In a world otherwise silent
people—only people— chatter away.
What’s more, sun and trees and clouds
are unconscious of their beauty.

A fast-flying plane flies in the shape of human passion.
Though the blue sky pretends to be a backdrop,
in fact there’s nothing there.

When I call out, in a small voice,
the world doesn’t answer.
My words are no different from those of the birds.

54

I grew unwittingly apart
from the world in which I was born
and can no longer walk again
among the things of the earth.

We know that even love is a possession,
but we can’t keep from praying
that life will go on.
And we accept the poverty of our prayers.

I can possess nothing,
though I love
trees, clouds, people.

I can only discard
my overflowing heart—
hesitant to call that an act of love.

58

It’s distance that makes
mountains mountains.
Looked at closely,
they start to resemble me.

Vast panoramas stop people in their tracks
and make them conscious of the engulfing distances.
Those very distances make people
the people they are.

Yet people can also contain distances
inside themselves,
which is why they go on yearning…

They soon find they’re just places violated by distances,
and no longer observed.
They have then become scenery.

_________________________________________
Shuntaro Tanikawa is a Japanese poet and translator. His book Floating the River in Melancholy (trans. William I. Eliot and Kazuo Kawamura) won the American Book Award. He has also translated Charles Schultz’s Peanuts into Japanese.

Psalm for Third Base

Fingers have their own prayers,
often crossed, but also bunched

in pockets for warmth or comfort:
there, amidst the fumble-scratch

of eager hands, there where verbs
take root: touch, trace, fist. There

in the back pew of a filled church
with a skirt tented just-so, a boy’s fingertips

graze inside, the sanctuary couched
in beeswax-smoke. There, the salvation

of dim light, brass candelabras holding
their tarnished glow in the black flame

just above the candlewick. It is there
at the back of the chapel with the choir

singing hallelujah and angels on walls
shimmering fallen light that the boy

receives what he expects from religion:
fanfare, epiphany, movement. So

it is there that the boy lingers, the edge
of where he’s been before and what must

come after: the present, what the gospel
calls the kingdom: her lips dusting his earlobe,

whispering, breathing, as if she were chanting
that moment alone: there, there, there.

__________________________________________________
Luke Johnson is the author of After the Ark (NYQ Books, 2011). His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Southwest Review, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. He has twice been featured in the Best New Poets anthology and has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, theAtlantic Monthly, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

NOTE: This poem originally appeared in New England Review.

Today we’re featuring two poets who I have an incredible amount of admiration and who I am very excited to share with you today.

I did want to write a brief observation about what I believe both these poems–different as they are–share in common: both are built around a relational core of emotions; both poems climax with the impossibility of speech. Both poems, however, do it in very different ways: Colie through image, Maya through syntax. My observations follow the poems (and below that are author bios).

The Paper One
By Colie Hoffman

It helps to understand there were two realities
and words were in the paper one.
The other was made of clouds
and sometimes whatever animals
or feelings clouds made with their shapes.

The cloud world had giant one-way windows.
You couldn’t see inside and it was very, very dark out.
Your own face sent
out a search party for you.
The limitations of our brains and other body parts
kept rapping on the glass as we danced.
I could never tell which was you
and which was me
and if that simple touch
was some girl’s thighs
or the wings of a moth.

The paper world had words available
but none were the right ones. Later at the bonfire
people threw all the words in
and soon the entire world burned down.

Afterward we kept
talking but one of us kept glancing
at something over
the other person’s head.
You said it was to watch
for predators. I said what’s “predators.”
You made a cloud with your index finger
in the shape of a person whose language had words
for every complicated feeling.
I made the shape of that person’s insides
and internal organs
and started an electrical storm
that would never stop.

Lament
By Maya Funaro

-for EY

Now I’ve heard for the last time.
It doesn’t snow today but October has laid its hands upon my shoulders.
We’re swaying now side to side as if we’re waiting something out.

But I have heard and we are no longer waiting.
It is October and you are gone.
In the air there is a long slow sigh.

In the air a surety dances like smoke.
I can be certain you are gone.
Still my knowing you pulls at me and turns a corner.

In October a life tries to fill itself out,
Searching pigment for even the loneliest spaces.
And death seeps in, a persistent stain,

Overflow of time outside of time.
An aberration, death speaks of saturation.
For this reason there is never enough.

For this reason you come to be all light and all shadow.
I’ve caught your laughter like a headcold.
All day and into the next

Grace tracks me down, looks me in the eye
While awkwardness takes my hand like an old friend and looks away.
What I’m trying to name here I can’t say plainly enough or with enough severity.

Colie’s poem enters into emotion through the backdoor. It’s a bit like wandering into an enormous and sparkling ballroom during an elegant affair, but only after having woven through a maze of underground hallways, each stretch full of doors opening to various rooms containing strange sights. Amazingly, Colie never loses control of the poetic “camera.” Somehow, almost suddenly, what has seemed to be a continual shell game of emotional deferral takes us straight to the heart of the matter, and we are amazed at the path we’ve taken (at least I always am), surprised to find that this whole time she’s actually been preparing us (in the strangest way possible) for a moment of open emotion. Colie’s poems are worth going through again and again, not because they “yield something new” every time (though that’s probably true), but because the poem works every time, the way a great guitar solo never gets old.

There are two things about Maya’s poem that I find worth noting. The first is that Maya’s poem, unlike Colie’s, does not defer any emotion. Beginning writers are told, “show, don’t tell.” And this is true to some extent with Maya: she knows how to imply emotion via objects and such. But Maya also tells a lot. Even the lines that “show” seem to tell (the emotion awkwardness, for example, is cleverly personified–it both shows and tells). The very climax of the poem is a direct statement of the theme of the poem: “What I’m trying to name here I can’t say plainly enough or with enough severity.” It takes a certain craft to openly discuss emotion without being labeled maudlin, especially in an age such as ours that has replaced vigilance of mawkishness with a cynicism of emotion in general.

The second thing to notice about Maya is her lines. Many poets “do” long lines, but I often find myself feeling that such lines wear out their welcome. As a poet, I’m inherently lazy and easily frustrated when I am forced to read across a whole page! Not so with Maya’s poem. There’s some metrical dark matter that sustains it far beyond where my poetic instinct tells me lines should go. It’s magic. I find myself continually amazed that Maya’s lines don’t run out of gas before turning the corner. Indeed, I think there’s a relationship between these two things I’ve noted. You may see that there is an almost direct relationship between the length of the line and the “telling” of emotional content. The longest lines are the ones that seem to carry the most emotional weight (some might disagree with me about that, but I think I’m right anyway!). I can’t imagine Maya cutting the last line of the poem up into 3 lines. Somehow, that would be mawkish. Instead it comes out in a great rush, like an arrow that has been shot into us. I do not know if Maya’s long lines work because of the content, or if the content works because of the long lines. The ghosts of form and content haunt each other mutually, I suspect.

Both Colie and Maya have found a way to enter into emotion that are worth learning from. This, among many other reasons, is why I share them with you.

___________________________

Colie Hoffman is a copyeditor by day and poet by night living in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her poems have appeared in Blood Orange Review, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora,and elsewhere. Thanks to a grant from the M Literary Residency, she is currently working on her first book at Sangam House in Bangalore, India.

Maya Funaro was born and raised in South Jersey, and currently makes her home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Her chapbook Setting in Motion was released in 2009 by Fox Point Press. Her poems have appeared in Ekleksographia and Ology.