Paine, Jeffery; Kwame Anthony Appiah (eds); Sven Birkerts; Joseph Brodsky; Carolyn Forché; Helen Vendler;
The Poetry of Our World: An International Anthology of Contemporary Poetry
HarperCollins, New York, 2000, 511 pages
ISBN 0060553693, 9780060553692
topics: | poetry | anthology | world
Organized into regions, with local editors for each. The goal is to "make the poem's shining merit the sole criterion" so that "a world anthology of poetry, perhaps for the first time, would not merely cover the bases but be primarily a pleasure to read." For each region, a set of poets are profiled with a bio and a small sampling of their work. This is followed by other poets from the region, one piece each - at the end of the section. . Latin America is represented by eight poems each by Neruda, Borges, Paz, Vallejo, and Drummond de Andrade, followed by a sampling of ten other poets (one poem each). Middle East is merged with Central Asia, to create an Islamic sphere, but I am not sure this is legitimate, e.g. the literature of Pakistan is perhaps closer to much else that is S Asian. Some of my favourites...
author's note: After the failure of the uprising in Lower Canada (now Québec) in 1838, the British army and an assortment of volunteers carried out reprisals against the civilian population around Beauharnois, burning houses and barns and turning the inhabitants out into the snow. No one was allowed to give them shelter and many froze to death. The men were arrested as rebels; those who were not home were presumed to be rebels and their houses were burned. The volunteers from Glengarry were Scots, most of them in Canada because their houses had also been burned during the Highland Clearances, an aftermath of the British victory at Culloden. Dufferin, Simcoe, and Grey are the names of three counties in Ontario, settled around this period.
The bronze clock brought with such care over the sea, which ticked like the fat slow heart of a cedar, of a grandmother, melted and its hundred years of time ran over the ice and froze there. We are fixed by this frozen clock at the edge of the winter forest. Ten below zero. Shouts in a foreign language come down blue snow. The women in their thin nightgowns disappear wordlessly among the trees. Here and there a shape, a limp cloth bundle, a child who could not keep up lies sprawled face down in a drift near the trampled clearing. No one could give them clothes or shelter, these were the orders. We didn't hurt them, the man said, we didn't touch them. The startling images of the heirloom clock frozen in time, of women, ghost-like floating through the trees in their nightgowns, and, most of all, of the “limp cloth bundle” that turns out to be frozen child who could not keep up with his mother stand in sharp contrast to the startling truth that ends the poem, “we didn’t hurt them, the man said,/ we didn’t touch them.”
Those whose houses were burned burned houses. What else ever happens once you start? While the roofs plunged into the root-filled cellars, they chased ducks, chickens, anything they could catch, clubbed their heads on rock, spitted them, singed off the feathers in fires of blazing fences, ate them in handfuls, charred and bloody. Sitting in the snow in those mended plaids, rubbing their numb feet, eating soot, still hungry, they watched the houses die like sunsets, like their own houses. Again those who gave the orders were already somewhere else, of course on horseback.
Is the man here, they said, where is he? She didn't know, though she called to him as they dragged her out of the stone house by both arms and fired the bedding. He was gone somewhere with the other men, he was not hanged, he came back later, they lived in a borrowed shack. A language is not words only, it is the stories that are told in it the stories that are never told. He pumped himself for years after that into her body which had no feet since that night, which had no fingers. His hatred of the words that had been done became children. They did the best they could: she fed them, he told them one story only.
This year we are making nothing but elegies Do what you are good at, our parents always told us, make what you know. This is what we are making, these songs for the dying. You have to celebrate something. The nets rot, the boats rot, the farms revert to thistle, foreigners and summer people admire the weeds and the piles of stones dredged from the fields by men whose teeth were gone by thirty. But the elegies are new and yellow they are not even made, they grow, they come out everywhere, in swamps, at the edges of puddles, all over the acres of of parked cars, they are mournful but sweet, like flowered hats in attics we never knew we had. We gather them, keep them in vases, water them while our houses wither.
pioneering figure of 20th-century literature. The creator of several genres - challenging and iconoclastic in his poetry and fiction. despite an enormous reputation, he never got the nobel prize: Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me." from Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life, p.426: [After a visit to Pinochet's Chile, Borges was marked as a pro-right wing writer.] That year, and for the remaining years of his life, his candidacy was opposed by a veteran member of the Nobel Prize committee, the socialist writer Arthur Lundkvist, a long-standing friend of the Chilean Communist poet Pablo Neruda, who had received the Nobel Prize in 1971. Lundkvist would subsequently explain to Volodia Teitelboim, one of Borges’s biographers and a onetime chairman of the Chilean Communist Party, that he would never forgive Borges his public endorsement of General Pinochet’s regime. for the record, Borges believed in democracy but also believed that Pinochet was the best of the available options for Chile at the time. "I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors."
His great-grandson is writing these lines and a silent voice comes to him out of the past, out of the blood: What does my battle at Junin matter if it is only a glorious memory, or a date learned by rote for an examination, or a place in the atlas? The battle is everlasting, and can do without the pomp of the obvious armies with their trumpets; Junin is two civilians cursing a tyrant on a street corner, or an unknown man somewhere, dying in prison. - “Página para recordar al coronel Suárez, vencedor en Junín” (tr. Alastair Reid, p.134) [ Col. Junin is one of Borges' ancestors who led one of the last battles for independence against Spain on August 6, 1824.]
In the final years of the twelfth century, from twilight of dawn to twilight of dusk, a leopard looked upon some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who were always different, a thick wall and, perhaps, a stone trough filled with dry leaves. The leopard did not know, could not know, that what he craved was love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of rending and the odor of a deer on the wind; and yet something within ghe animal choked him and something rebelled, and God spoke to him in a dream: You live and will die in this prison, so that a man I know may look at you a certain number of times and not forget you and put your figure and your symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have furnished a word to the poem. [The leoopard accepted his destiny, but felt merely an obscure resignation,] for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of a wild beast. Years later, Dante lay dying in Ravenna ... felt he had received and then lost something infinite, something he could not recuperate, or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men. - tr. Anthony Kerrigan, p.138
Homeric castle, knight Swift to attack, queen warlike, king decisive Slanted bishop, and attacking pawns. ... Faint-hearted king, sly bishop, ruthless queen, Straightforward castle, and deceitful pawn -- Over the checkered black and white terrain They seek out and begin their armed campaign. They do not know it is the player's hand That dominates and guides their destiny. They do not know an adamantine fate Controls their will and lays the battle plan.
Celan saw both parents being led away to a death camp in 1939. Writes in German.
tr. Christopher Middleton Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night drink it and drink it we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he whistles his dogs up he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth he commands us strike up for the dance Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at nightfall drink you and drink you A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there He shouts stab deeper in earth you there and you others you sing and you play he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are his eyes stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on for the dancing Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightfall we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at nightfall drink you and drink you a man in the house your golden hair Margarete your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents He shouts play sweeter death's music death comes as a master from Germany he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the sky then you'll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night we drink you at noon death comes as a master from Germany we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and drink you a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are blue with a bullet of lead he will hit in the mark he will hit you a man in the house your golden hair Margarete he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a grave he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a master from Germany your golden hair Margarete your ashen hair Shulamith.
tr. Mark Anderson Used together: seasons, books, a piece of music. The keys, teacups, bread basket, sheets and a bed. A hope chest of words, of gestures, brought back, used, used up. A household order maintained. Said. Done. And always a hand was there. I’ve fallen in love with winter, with a Viennese septet, with summer. With village maps, a mountain nest, a beach and a bed. Kept a calendar cult, declared promises irrevocable, bowed before something, was pious to a nothing (to a folded newspaper, cold ashes, the scribbled piece of paper), fearless in religion, for our bed was the church. From my lake view arose my inexhaustible painting. From my balcony I greeted entire peoples, my neighbors. By the chimney fire, in safety, my hair took on its deepest hue. The ringing at the door was the alarm for my joy. It’s not you I’ve lost, but the world. ==Zbignew Herbert link: Translating zbignew herbert (NYT)
[tr. Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott] The pebble is a perfect creature equal to itself mindful of its limits filled exactly with a pebbly meaning with a scent that does not remind one of anything does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire its ardor and coldness are just and full of dignity I feel a heavy remorse when I hold it in my hand and its noble body is permeated by false warmth Pebbles cannot be tamed to the end they will look at us with a calm and very clear eye from author intro by Joseph Brodsky, p. 253: Whether you are a pole or not, what history wants is to destroy you. The only way to survive, to endure its almost geological pressure, is to acquire the features of a pebble, including the false warmth once you find yourself in somebody's hands. ... Starkness, in fact, is very much Herbert's signature. He is a modern poet not because he uses vers libre but because the reasons for which he uses it are very modern. Born in 1924, Herbert belongs to the generation of Europeans that saw the native realms reduced to rubbble... Richard Jackson, on the rebellion hidden in this simple-seeming poem: History is present in the pebble, but in a negative way, by its absence, as Milosz has remarked. The pebble is like the good citizen, "perfect" in its reticence, "permeated by false warmth." That falseness is one of our first clues --- it undercuts the neat pattern that is imitating the sterile prose of the government. No one in any state government wants emotion and desire to disrupt the surface pattern, and if they cannot arrive at a citizen" mindful of its.limits," then they will settle for someone with "a secret that does not remind anyone of anything." Nothing beyond the simple, literal, prepackaged level, the level of slogans, five year plans, "contracts with America," or the like-- that way nothing will be frightened away or desired beyond the moment. But the pebble, or the citizen turned stone, has one advantage: "Pebbles cannot be tamed," they will be our conscience "to the end." And for the poet? Well, writing about pebbles is not going to get him into too much difficulty, and more, the poem, by becoming so general becomes universal, a mythic field where history does not happen just once but again and again and in as many contexts with as many effects as the imaginative reader can suggest for the simple stone that has now become a very complex figure.
[tr. Emily Grosholz] Stars moving from their summertime To winter pasture; and the shepherd, arched Over earthly happiness; and so much peace, Like the cry of an insect, halt, irregular, Shaped by an impoverished god. The silence Rises from your book up to your heart. A noiseless wind moves in the noisy world. Time smiles in the distance, ceasing to be. And in the grove the ripe fruit simply are. You will grow old And, fading into the color of the trees, Making a slower shadow on the wall, Becoming, as soul at least, the threatened earth, You will take up the book again, at the still open age, And say, These were indeed the last dark words.
tr. author and Lillian Vallee We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn A red wing rose in the darkness. And suddenly a hare ran across the road. One of us pointed to it with his hand. That was long ago. Today neigher of them is alive, Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture. O my love, where are they, where are they going The flash of a hand, streak of movements, rustle of pebbles. I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
(Indonesia 1922-1949) tr. Burton Raffel On the restaurant terrace, we're face to face Just introduce. We simply stare Although we've already dived into the ocean of each other's souls. In this first act We're still only looking The orchestra plays "Carmen" along with us. She winks. She laughs And the dry grass blazes up. She speaks. Her voice is loud My blood stops running. When the orchestra begins the "Ave Maria" I drag her over there... (tr. Burton Raffel)
I resemble everyone but myself, and sometimes see in shop-windows, despite the well-known laws of optics, the portrait of a stranger, date unknowns, often signed in a corner by my father.
A naked Jaina monk ravaged by spring fever, the vigor of long celibacy lusting now as never before for the reek and sight of mango bud, now tight, now loosening into petal, stamen, and butterfly, his several mouths thirsting for breast, buttock, smells of finger, long hair, short hair, the wet places never dry, skin roused even by whips, self touching self, all philosophy slimed by its own saliva, cool Ganges turning sensual on him smeared by his own private untouchable Jaina body with honey thick and slow as pitch and stood continent at last on an anthill of red fire ants, crying his old formulaic cry; at every twinge, "Pleasure, pleasure, Great Pleasure!" -- no longer a formula in the million mouths of pleasure-in-pain as the ants climb, tattooing him, limb by limb and cover his body, once naked, once even intangible.
japan's most widely regarded poet for many years now. tanikawa writes directly, with images rather than metaphor - "metaphors have lost their point/ because the world is so broken", he says at one point. he never went to college. about his growth as a poet he has said: I was still in junior high school in World War II. After the defeat, all the values that the Japanese had believed in were completely destroyed. It was a period of a kind of vacuum for us, and nobody knew what to believe. Many of my generation who went to college became involved in various political movements, but I didn't go to college and so remained rather isolated from the political activities of my peers. In the Western movies, I found a position with which I could sympathize. I felt great excitement when a man would go to the frontier, [a place where he would] live alone out on the last land of the West - under the blue sky. (quoted in a nyt review)
tr. Harold Wright age three there was no past for me age five my past went back to yesterday age seven my past went back to topknotted samurai age eleven my past went back to dinosaurs age fourteen my past agreed with the texts in school age sixteen I look at the infinity of my past with fear. age eighteen I know not a thing about time.
tr. Harold Wright here let’s jump rope together here here let’s eat balls of rice together here let me love you your eyes reflect the blueness of sky your back will be stained a wormwood green here let’s learn the constellations together from here let’s dream of every distant thing here let’s gather low-tide shells from the sea of sky at dawn let’s bring back little starfish at breakfast we will toss them out let the night be drawn away here I’ll keep saying, “I am back” while you repeat, “Welcome home” here let’s come again and again here let’s drink hot tea here let’s sit together for awhile let’s be blown by the cooling breeze.
(tr. Harold Wright) Mankind on a little globe Sleeps, awakes and works Wishing at times to be friends with Mars. Martians on a little globe Are probably doing something; I don't know what (Maybe sleep-sleeping, wear-wearing, or fret-fretting) While wishing at time to be friends with Earth This is a fact I'm sure of. This thing called universal gravitation Is the power of loneliness pulling together. The universe is distorted So all join in desire. The universe goes on expanding So all feel uneasy. At the loneliness of twenty billion light years Without thinking, I sneezed.
starting with the list of poets from http://mason.gmu.edu/~ayadav/anthologies i have added some details (excerpted poems only).
Greatest things from least suggestions / Helen Vendler ; Robert Lowell (United States) ; Elizabeth Bishop (United States) ; Philip Larkin (England) ; Seamus Heaney (Ireland) ; Derek Walcott (St. Lucia, Caribbean) ; A sampling of other English-language poets Margaret Atwood : Four small elegies 102 I : Beauharnois 104 II : Beauharnois, Glengarry 105 III : Beauharnois 106 IV : Dufferin, Simcoe, Grey 107
Poets of a different muse / Carolyn Forché ; Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina) ; A page to commemorate Colonel Suarez, victor at Junin 134 Inferno I, 32 138 Chess 141 Pablo Neruda (Chile) ; Octavio Paz (Mexico) ; César Vallejo (Peru) ; Carlos Drummond de Andrade (Brazil) ; A sampling of other Latin American poets
Darker human possibilities / Sven Birkerts ; Anna Akhmatova (Russia) Paul Celan (Romanian/Jewish [German language]) ; Zbigniew Herbert (Poland) Fugue of Death (Todesfugue) 240 Eugenio Montale (Italy) ; George Seferis (Greece) ; A sampling other European poets Ingeborg Bachmann (Austria): A kind of loss 297 Pebble: Zbigniew Herbert 255 The book, for growing old : Yves Bonnefoy 298 Czeslaw Milosz: Encounter 303
An African way with words / Kwame Anthony Appiah ; Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) ; Okot p'Bitek (Uganda) ; Antonio Agostinho Neto (Angola) ; Breyten Breytenbach (South Africa) ; Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) ; A sampling of other African poets
What is Indian literature? / Anita Desai ; A.K. Ramanujan ; Self-Portrait Pleasure 406
Ghazals, Qasidas, Rubais, and a literary giant / Agha Shahid Ali ;
A thousand years without any season / Burton Raffel ; A force in Indonesian poetry / Denise Levertov ; Chairil Anwar ;
How the "revolution" occurred in Chinese poetry: a memoir / Bei Dao ; Exquisite swallows and poetry quotas: a tumultuous century in Chinese poetry Perry Link and Maghiel van Crevel ; Duoduo ;
After the Tea ceremony, beyond the geisha's charms: modern Japanese literature : Donald Keene; A man on a child's swing: contemporary Japanese poetry : Garrett Hongo ; Shuntaro Tanikawa ; Growth 458 Picnic to the Earth 461 Twenty billion light years of loneliness 458 (tr. Harold Wright) A sampling of other Asian poets.