Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
– Thomas Gray
Poetry is finer and more philosophical
than history; for poetry expresses the
universal, and history only the particular.
We circle the globe this week, with
ten poets in six mother tongues
1935 – Roque Dalton born Roque Antonio Dalton García in San Salvador; Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, and political activist; he joined the Communist Party of El Salvador, and was imprisoned in 1959 and 1960 for inciting revolt, then went into exile, spending time in Mexico, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba, where most of his poetry was published. Following his return to El Salvador in 1965, he was arrested and interrogated. Dalton left again in 1969, to work in Cuba and Prague as a correspondent for The International Review: Problems of Peace and Socialism. Also in 1969, he won the Poetry Prize Casa de las Américas for his book Taberna y otros lugares (Tavern and other places). In 1973, he joined Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary Army – ERP) during the unrest leading up to the Salvadoran Civil War, but ERP leader Alejandro Rivas Mira accused him of trying to divide the ERP, and Dalton was executed by the ERP’s military faction at age 39 in May 1975.
por Roque Dalton
Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.
by Roque Dalton
Like you I
love love, life, the sweet spell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.
– translated by Jack Hirschman
“Como Tú” from Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination, edited by Martin Espada – Curbstone Press, September 2000 edition
1974 – Mary Biddinger born in Fremont California; American poet who had published six collections of poetry, including Prairie Fever; Saint Monica; Partial Genius: Prose Poems; and Department of Elegy. She is a professor in the English department of the University of Akron. As senior editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, she oversees preparation of three collections of poetry each year, published by the University of Akron Press. Biddinger also founded the Barn Owl Review.
Where You Store the Gun at Night
by Mary Biddinger
There was no boundary to your acres,
just a string buried somewhere under ice.
A moon for the sake of being a moon.
I’d touch it. Wouldn’t you, in the right
combination of smoke-fluster and snow?
There was once a dream about flannel
and under that flannel there was even more.
I was never good at measuring anything,
especially time. If there was a wooden box
big enough for both of us, we could hide it
on the top shelf, next to the kidskin wallet
and fingernail adhesive my grandmother
left behind. I’d never ask you to climb
onto the roof without me. Sometimes
a mattress creates its own secret space.
When I was sixteen I first discovered it:
a trail of sugar crystals on a thread.
The piece of paper that once crossed
your lips, only neither of us knew it yet.
I tucked my Sulphide marbles inside
a jacket that you never wore. Suspended
in the shooter: a fleck of a girl, and her
milk bucket. I would carry mine all day
if it kept your hands from turning red
“Where You Store the Gun at Night” appeared in Diode Poetry Journal in Fall 2009
1689 – Lady Mary Wortley Montagu born, English poet and letter writer; she “stole” her education from books in her father’s library, teaching herself Latin. Remembered for letters written home from the Ottoman Empire as the wife of the British ambassador to Turkey, the first notable secular work by a woman about “the Muslim Orient” (Letters from Turkey). Also notable for introducing and campaigning for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey. In her writings, she addresses and challenges the hindering attitudes of her society toward women and their intellectual and social growth.
A Receipt to Cure the Vapors
by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Why will Delia thus retire,
And idly languish life away?
While the sighing crowd admire,
’Tis too soon for hartshorn tea:
All those dismal looks and fretting
Cannot Damon’s life restore;
Long ago the worms have eat him,
You can never see him more.
Once again consult your toilette,
In the glass your face review:
So much weeping soon will spoil it,
And no spring your charms renew.
I, like you, was born a woman,
Well I know what vapors mean:
The disease, alas! is common;
Single, we have all the spleen.
All the morals that they tell us,
Never cured the sorrow yet:
Chuse, among the pretty fellows,
One of honor, youth, and wit.
Prithee hear him every morning
At least an hour or two;
Once again at night returning—
I believe the dose will do.
1887 – Edwin Muir born Deerness, a parish of Orkney, Scotland; Scottish poet, literary critic, and translator. When he was 14, his family lost their farm, and moved to Glasgow, but his father, two brothers, and his mother died within just a few years, and he had to take a series of dead-end jobs, including working in a factory that turned bones into charcoal. Then in 1919, he married Willa Anderson, a novelist who was his collaborator on translations of Franz Kafka that did much to bring attention to Kafka in English-speaking countries. Muir wrote, “My marriage was the most fortunate event in my life.” They moved to London. The Muirs traveled in Europe from 1921 to 1924. Between 1927 and 1932, Edwin Muir published three novels. In the post-war years, he was Director of the British Council (1946-1949) in Prague and Rome; then Warden of Newbattle Abbey College (1950-1954), a college for working-class men in Midlothian; and Norton Professor of English (1955-1956) at Harvard University. After they returned to the UK, he died at age 71 in 1959 in the village of Swaffham Prior near Newmarket.
by Edwin Muir
O Merlin in your crystal cave
Deep in the diamond of the day,
Will there ever be a singer
Whose music will smooth away
The furrow drawn by Adam’s finger
Across the memory and the wave?
Or a runner who’ll outrun
Man’s long shadow driving on,
Break through the gate of memory
And hang the apple on the tree?
Will your magic ever show
The sleeping bride shut in her bower,
The day wreathed in its mound of snow
and Time locked in his tower?
“Merlin” from Collected Poems 1921-1958, © 1979 by Willa Muir – Faber and Faber Ltd
1935 – Utah Phillips was born as Bruce Duncan Phillips in Cleveland, Ohio; American Industrial Workers of the World member, labor organizer, folk singer,
storyteller, poet, pacifist, and train-hopper. He wrote many songs, including “There is Power in a Union,” “Solidarity Forever,” “Joe Hill,” and “All Used Up.” In 1976, he was the Do Nothing Party’s candidate for President of the United States. In 2008, Utah Phillips died at age 73 in Nevada City, California.
All Used Up
by Utah Phillips
I spent my whole life making somebody rich
I busted my ass for that son of a bitch
He left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I’m all used up
He used up my labor, he used up my time
He plundered my body and squandered my mind
Then he gave me a pension, some handouts and wine
And told me I’m all used up
My kids are in hock to a god you call Work
Slaving their lives out for some other jerk
And my youngest in ‘Frisco just made shipping-clerk
He don’t know I’m all used up
Some young people reach out for power and gold
And they don’t have respect for anything old
For pennies they’re bought, for promises sold
Someday they’ll be used up
They use up the oil, they use up the trees
They use up the air and they use up the seas
But how about you, friend, and how about me
What’s left, when we’re all used up
I’ll finish my life in this crummy hotel
It’s lousy with bugs and my God, what a smell
But my plumbing still works and I’m clear as a bell
Don’t tell me I’m all used up
Outside my window the world passes by
It gives me a handout, then spits in my eye
And no one can tell me, ’cause no one knows why
I’m still living, but I’m all used up
Sometimes in a dream I sit by a tree
My life is a book of how things used to be
And the kids gather ’round and they listen to me
They don’t think I’m all used up
And there’s songs and there’s laughter and things I can do
And all that I’ve learned I can give back to you
And I’d give my last breath just to make it come true
And to know I’m not all used up
They use up the oil, they use up the trees
They use up the air and they use up the seas
But as long as I’m breathing they won’t use up me
Don’t tell me I’m all used up
“All Used Up” © 1988 by Utah Phillips
1788 – Fredrich Rückert born in Schweinfurt, Bavarian when it was part of the Holy Roman Empire; German poet, scholar, a master of thirty languages, and a translator and professor of Oriental languages and literature. He was appoinred as Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of Erlangen (1826-1839), and at the University of Berlin (1840-1849). In 1866, he died at age 77 in a suburb of Coburg, then part of the German Confederation.
At Forty Years
by Fredrich Rückert
When for forty years we’ve climbed the rugged mountain,
We stop and backward gaze;
Yonder still we see our childhood’s peaceful fountain,
And youth exulting strays.
One more glance behind, and then, new strength acquiring,
Staff grasped, no longer stay;
See, a further slope, a long one, still aspiring
Ere downward turns the way!
Take a brave long breath and toward the summit hie thee–
The goal shall draw thee on;
When thou think’st it least, the destined end is nigh thee–
Sudden, the journey’s done!
1929 – Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Poet, essayist, and an icon of radical American feminism. Rich is one of the most widely read and influential poets of the late 20th century. An irony of the 1940s-early 1950s era in which she attended Radcliffe College is that none of her teachers were women. In 1951, Rich’s last year at college, her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award by W.H. Auden. He also wrote the introduction to the book when it was published. Rich received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study at Oxford for a year in 1952, but after a visit to Florence, she spent the rest of her time exploring Italy. Through the following decades, she struggled with the 1950s version of marriage and motherhood, became a ‘60s anti-war, civil rights, and feminist activist, then ended her marriage, acknowledged her lesbianism, and became a leading voice in the campaigns for sexual equality and gay rights. When she shared the 1974 National Book Award for Poetry with Allen Ginsberg, she insisted on Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, the two other feminist nominees, accepting with her, on behalf of all women “whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world.”
by Adrienne Rich
I’ve said: I wouldn’t ever
keep a cat, a dog,
a bird —
I’d rather love my equals.
in the fog of my mind,
I knew, the thing I really
couldn’t stand in the house
is a woman
with a mindful of fog
and bloodletting claws
and the nerves of a bird
and the nightmares of a dog.
“Apology” from The Diamond Cutters, © 1955 by Adrienne Rich – Harper and Brothers
1936 – Lars Gustafsson was born in Västerås, Sweden. He is a Swedish poet, novelist, and scholar. His first novel was published in 1959, and his first poetry collection the following year. Some of his poetry collections have been published in the U.S, including: The Stillness of the World Before Bach ; Elegies and Other Poems ; and A Time in Xanadu. Gustafsson was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin from 1983 until 2006, when he retired and returned to Sweden. He died in Stockholm at age 79 in 2016.
by Lars Gustafsson
Here the calm smoothness ruled
which could be disturbed by a single oarstroke.
The season slowly cooling.
The sound of a chain being taken off
and laid in the bottom of a rowboat.
And, afraid to disturb this
surface’s rare great calm
I held my oar hovering in the air.
“Smoothness” © 1993 by Lars Gustafsson and translated Susan W. Howard
1048 – Omar Khayyam born as Ghiyāth al-Dīn Abū al-Fatḥ ʿUmar ibn Ibrāhīm Nīsābūrī in Nishapur, capital of the Saljuk Empire; Persian scholar of astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and a poet, credited as the author The Rubaiyat, a collection of connected quatrains written around 1120, and translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald. As an astronomer, he calculated the duration of the solar year with remarkable precision and accuracy, and designed the Jalali calendar, the basis for the Persian calendar still in use after nearly a millennium. He died in Nishapur at age 83 in December 1131.
by Omar Khayyam
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
“When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?”
701 – Li Bai born in the coastal province of Shandong during the Tang Dynasty, Chinese poet, calligrapher, and translator. He is acclaimed as a brilliant and innovative poet, one of the most prominent figures in the Tang “Golden Age of Poetry.” Around 1000 poems attributed to Li Bai are still extant, because they were collected and complied in 753 by Yin Fan. The Tang’s “golden age” was abruptly shattered by a rebellion in late 755 led by General An Lushan. His reign as Emperor lasted only 11 months, from February 756 to January 757. He was then killed by his son An Qingxu, whose own reign lasted from 757 to 759, when he was executed by General Shi Siming. These years of war caused devastation and famine, and Li Bai was at one point captured and sentenced to death, but was pardoned. He is one of the few poets of his time whose work has survived up to the present day substantially intact. He died around age 61 in 762. In the 18th century, translations of his poetry began to appear in Europe. “Quiet Night Thoughts” is one of his poems still taught to Chinese schoolchildren.
Quiet Night Thoughts
by Li Bai
Before my bed lies a pool of moonlight
I could imagine that it’s frost on the ground
I look up and see the bright shining moon
Bowing my head I am thinking of home
Reblogged this on dean ramser.