book excerptise:   a books unexamined = life unexamined

Jeffery Paine and Kwame Anthony Appiah (eds) and Sven Birkerts and Joseph Brodsky and Carolyn Forché and Helen Vendler

The Poetry of Our World: An International Anthology of Contemporary Poetry

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

Book Review

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...

Margaret Atwood : Four small elegies p.102

	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.

I : Beauharnois p.104

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.”

II : Beauharnois, Glengarry p.105

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.

III : Beauharnois p.106

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.

IV : Dufferin, Simcoe, Grey p. 107

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.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) Argentina

	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

	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

	"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."

A page to commemorate Colonel Suarez, victor at Junin p.134

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.]

Inferno I, 32 (p.148)

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

Chess [p.141]

		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.

Paul Celan (1920-1970)

Celan saw both parents being led away to a death camp in 1939.  Writes
in German.

Fugue of Death (Todesfugue) p.240

	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.

Ingeborg Bachmann (Austria): A kind of loss p.297

	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)

Pebble: Zbigniew Herbert p.255

			[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

The book, for growing old : Yves Bonnefoy p.298

				[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.

Czeslaw Milosz: Encounter p. 303

	     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.

Chairil Anwar : An Ordinary Song p.427

			(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)

A.K. Ramanujan


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.

Pleasure (p.406)

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.

Shuntaro Tanikawa (1931- )

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)

Growth : Shuntaro Tanikawa p.458

		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.

Picnic to the Earth : Shuntaro Tanikawa p.461

		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.

Twenty billion light years of loneliness, p.458

				(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.

Contents (incomplete)

starting with the list of poets from
i have added some details (excerpted poems only).

Part I. The English-speaking world / edited by Helen Vendler

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

Part II. Latin America / edited by Carolyn Forche

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

Part III. Europe / edited by Joseph Brodsky, Sven Birkerts, and Edward Hirsch

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

Part IV. Africa / edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah

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

Part V. Asia

India / edited by Anita Desai and Edward C. Dimock

What is Indian literature? / Anita Desai ;
  A.K. Ramanujan ;
	  Pleasure 406

Middle East and Central Asia / edited by Agha Shahid Ali

  Ghazals, Qasidas, Rubais, and a literary giant / Agha Shahid Ali ;

Southeast Asia and the Pacific / edited by Burton Raffel and Denise Levertov

A thousand years without any season / Burton Raffel ;
A force in Indonesian poetry / Denise Levertov ;
  Chairil Anwar ;

China / edited by Bei Dao and Perry Link

  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 ;

Japan / edited by Donald Keene and Garrett Hongo

  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.

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2011 Aug 13