Tag Archives: Poetry

The Dead

10 May

Mexico Drugs War

 

The Dead

by

María Rivera (Mexico)

 

Here they come

the decapitated,

the amputees,

the torn into pieces,

the women with their coccyx split apart,

those with their heads smashed in,

the little ones crying

inside dark walls

of minerals and sand.

Here they come

those who sleep in buildings

that house secret tombs:

they come with their eyes blindfolded,

their hands tied,

shot between their temples.

Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,

in-laws, neighbours,

the woman they gang raped before killing her,

the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,

the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story

comes walking down Broadway,

consoled by the wail of the ambulances,

the hospital doors,

light shining on the waters of the Hudson.

Here they come

the dead who set out from Usulután,

from La Paz

from La Unión,

from La Libertad,

from Sonsonate,

from San Salvador,

from San Juan Mixtepec,

from Cuscatlán,

from El Progreso,

from El Guante,

crying,

those who were given the goodbye at a karaoke party,

and were found shot in Tecate.

Here comes the one they forced to dig his brother’s grave,

the one they murdered after collecting a four thousand dollar ransom,

those who were kidnapped

with a woman they raped in front of her eight year old son

three times.

Where do they come from,

from what gangrene,

oh lymph,

the bloodthirsty,

the heartless,

the murdering

butchers?

Here they come,

the dead so alone, so mute, so much ours,

set beneath the enormous sky of Anáhuac,

they walk,

they drag themselves,

with their bowl of horror in their hands,

their terrifying tenderness.

They are called

the dead that they found in a ditch in Taxco,

the dead that they found in remote places of Chihuahua,

the dead that they found strewn across plots of crops,

the dead that they found shot in la Marquesa,

the dead that they found hanging from bridges,

the dead that they found without heads on common land,

the dead that they found at the side of the road,

the dead that they found in abandoned cars,

the dead that they found in San Fernando,

those without number they cut into pieces and have still not been found,

the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead

dissolved in drums.

They are called

remains, corpses, the deceased,

they are called

the dead whose mothers do not tire of waiting,

the dead whose children do not tire of waiting,

the dead whose wives do not tire of waiting,

they imagine them in subways, among gringos.

They are called

baby clothes woven in the casket of the soul,

the little tee shirt of a three-month-old

the photo of a toothless smile,

they are called mamita,

papito,

they are called

little kicks

in the tummy

and the newborn’s cry,

they are called four children,

Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)

and a widow (a girl) who fell in love at primary school,

they are called wanting to dance at fiestas,

they are called blushing of hot cheeks and sweaty hands,

they are called boys,

they are called wanting

to build a house,

laying bricks,

giving food to my children,

they are called two dollars for cleaning beans,

houses, estates, offices,

they are called

crying of children on earth floors,

the light flying over the birds,

the flight of pigeons in the church,

they are called

kisses at the river’s edge,

they are called

Gelder (17)

Daniel (22)

Filmar (24)

Ismael (15)

Agustín (20)

José (16)

Jacinta (21)

Inés (28)

Francisco (53)

gagged

in the scrubland,

hands tied

in the gardens of ranches,

vanished

in the gardens of ‘safe’ houses,

in some forgotten wilderness,

disintegrating mutely

and in secret,

they are called

secrets of hitmen,

secrets of slaughter,

secrets of policemen,

they are called sobbing,

they are called mist,

they are called body,

they are called skin,

they are called warmth,

they are called kiss,

they are called hug,

they are called laughter,

they are called people,

they are called pleading,

they were called I,

they were called you,

they were called us,

they are called shame,

they are called sobbing.

Here they go

María,

Juana,

Petra,

Carolina,

13,

18,

25,

16,

breasts bitten,

hands tied,

their bodies burned to a crisp,

their bones polished by the sand of the desert.

They are called

the dead women that no one knows no one saw being killed,

they are called

women who go out alone to bars at night,

they are called

working women who leave their homes at dawn,

they are called

sisters,

daughters,

mothers,

aunts,

disappeared,

raped,

burnt,

chucked away,

they are called meat,

they are called meat.

Here,

without flowers,

without tombstones,

without an age,

without a name,

without sobbing,

they sleep in their cemetery:

its name is Temixco,

its name is Santa Ana,

its name is Mazatepec,

its name is Juárez,

its name is Puente de Ixtla,

its name is San Fernando,

its name is Tlaltizapán,

its name is Samalayuca,

its name is el Capulín,

its name is Reynosa,

its name is Nuevo Laredo,

its name is Guadalupe,

its name is Lomas de Poleo,

its name is Mexico.

 

Translated by Richard Gwyn

This poem, along with 155 others by 97 Latin American poets, selected and translated by Richard Gwyn, will be published in October 2016 in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.

A video of the poet reading ‘The Dead’ can be found here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYtLFMwQZhQ&app=desktop

 

Los Muertos

 

Allá vienen

los descabezados,

los mancos,

los descuartizados,

a las que les partieron el coxis,

a los que les aplastaron la cabeza,

los pequeñitos llorando

entre paredes oscuras

de minerales y arena.

Allá vienen

los que duermen en edificios

de tumbas clandestinas:

vienen con los ojos vendados,

atadas las manos,

baleados entre las sienes.

Allí vienen los que se perdieron por Tamaulipas,

cuñados, yernos, vecinos,

la mujer que violaron entre todos antes de matarla,

el hombre que intentó evitarlo y recibió un balazo,

la que también violaron, escapó y lo contó viene

caminando por Broadway,

se consuela con el llanto de las ambulancias,

las puertas de los hospitales,

la luz brillando en el agua del Hudson.

Allá vienen

los muertos que salieron de Usulután,

de La Paz,

de La Unión,

de La Libertad,

de Sonsonate,

de San Salvador,

de San Juan Mixtepec,

de Cuscatlán,

de El Progreso,

de El Guante,

llorando,

a los que despidieron en una fiesta con karaoke,

y los encontraron baleados en Tecate.

Allí viene al que obligaron a cavar la fosa para su hermano,

al que asesinaron luego de cobrar cuatro mil dólares,

los que estuvieron secuestrados

con una mujer que violaron frente a su hijo de ocho años

tres veces.

¿De dónde vienen,

de qué gangrena,

oh linfa,

los sanguinarios,

los desalmados,

los carniceros

asesinos?

Allá vienen

los muertos tan solitos, tan mudos, tan nuestros,

engarzados bajo el cielo enorme del Anáhuac,

caminan,

se arrastran,

con su cuenco de horror entre las manos,

su espeluznante ternura.

Se llaman

los muertos que encontraron en una fosa en Taxco,

los muertos que encontraron en parajes alejados de Chihuahua,

los muertos que encontraron esparcidos en parcelas de cultivo,

los muertos que encontraron tirados en la Marquesa,

los muertos que encontraron colgando de los puentes,

los muertos que encontraron sin cabeza en terrenos ejidales,

los muertos que encontraron a la orilla de la carretera,

los muertos que encontraron en coches abandonados,

los muertos que encontraron en San Fernando,

los sin número que destazaron y aún no encuentran,

las piernas, los brazos, las cabezas, los fémures de muertos

disueltos en tambos.

Se llaman

restos, cadáveres, occisos,

se llaman

los muertos a los que madres no se cansan de esperar

los muertos a los que hijos no se cansan de esperar,

los muertos a los que esposas no se cansan de esperar,

imaginan entre subways y gringos.

Se llaman

chambrita tejida en el cajón del alma,

camisetita de tres meses,

la foto de la sonrisa chimuela,

se llaman mamita,

papito,

se llaman

pataditas

en el  vientre

y el primer llanto,

se llaman cuatro hijos,

Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)

y una viuda (muchacha) que se enamoró cuando estudiaba la primaria,

se llaman ganas de bailar en las fiestas,

se llaman rubor de mejillas encendidas y manos sudorosas,

se llaman muchachos,

se llaman ganas

de construir una casa,

echar tabique,

darle de comer a mis hijos,

se llaman dos dólares por limpiar frijoles,

casas, haciendas, oficinas,

se llaman

llantos de niños en pisos de tierra,

la luz volando sobre los pájaros,

el vuelo de las palomas en la iglesia,

se llaman

besos a la orilla del río,

se llaman

Gelder (17)

Daniel (22)

Filmar (24)

Ismael (15)

Agustín (20)

José (16)

Jacinta (21)

Inés (28)

Francisco (53)

entre matorrales,

amordazados,

en jardines de ranchos

maniatados,

en jardines de casas de seguridad

desvanecidos,

en parajes olvidados,

desintegrándose muda,

calladamente,

se llaman

secretos de sicarios,

secretos de matanzas,

secretos de policías,

se llaman llanto,

se llaman neblina,

se llaman cuerpo,

se llaman piel,

se llaman tibieza,

se llaman beso,

se llaman abrazo,

se llaman risa,

se llaman personas,

se llaman súplicas,

se llamaban yo,

se llamaban tú,

se llamaban nosotros,

se llaman vergüenza,

se llaman llanto.

Allá van

María,

Juana,

Petra,

Carolina,

13,

18,

25,

16,

los pechos mordidos,

las manos atadas,

calcinados sus cuerpos,

sus huesos pulidos por la arena del desierto.

Se llaman

las muertas que nadie sabe nadie vio que mataran,

se llaman

las mujeres que salen de noche solas a los bares,

se llaman

mujeres que trabajan salen de sus casas en la madrugada,

se llaman

hermanas,

hijas,

madres,

tías,

desaparecidas,

violadas,

calcinadas,

aventadas,

se llaman carne,

se llaman carne.

Allá

sin flores,

sin losas,

sin edad,

sin nombre,

sin llanto,

duermen en su cementerio:

se llama Temixco,

se llama Santa Ana,

se llama Mazatepec,

se llama Juárez,

se llama Puente de Ixtla,

se llama San Fernando,

se llama Tlaltizapán,

se llama Samalayuca,

se llama el Capulín,

se llama Reynosa,

se llama Nuevo Laredo,

se llama Guadalupe,

se llama Lomas de Poleo,

se llama México.

 

Ballad of the House

2 May
Romulo Bustos

Colombian poet Romulo Bustos Aguirre

 

 

Last Tuesday saw the launch in Bogotá of Rómulo Bustos Aguirre’s Collected Poems (1988-2013), La pupila incesante. The event was introduced by another fine Colombian poet, Darío Jaramillo Agudelo. Both poets feature in my forthcoming anthology, The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, to be published by Seren in October. Using a language rich in metaphysical allusion and sensual imagery, Rómulo Bustos is a writer of ‘slow’ poetry, inspired by the landscape and themes of his native Caribbean. A professor of literature at the University of Cartagena, he has won the National Poetry Prize from the Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, and the Blas de Otero Prize from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Here is my translation of a poem of Rómulo’s, which was published in the Irish poetry magazine Cyphers, back in December 2014.

 

Ballad of the House

You will find a house with a strange name

	that you will attempt in vain to decipher

And walls the colour of good dreams

But you will not see that colour

Nor will you drink the red plum wine

	that expands memories

On the fence

a child with a half-open book

Ask him the way to the big trees

whose fruits are guarded by an animal

that sends passers-by to sleep just by looking at them

And he will answer while conversing

	with a green-winged angel

(as if it were another child playing at being an angel

with wide banana leaves stuck to his back)

barely moving his lips in a gentle spell

“the cockerel’s song isn’t blue but a sleepy pink

like the first light of day”

And you will not understand. And nevertheless

you will find an immense hallway that I crossed

where the portrait of a lord hangs, shimmering

	slightly, his heart in his hand

And at the back, right at the back,

the soul of the house seated in a rocking chair, singing

But you will not heed her


Because in that instant

A distant sound shall crumple the horizon

And the child will have finished the last page

 

Translation by Richard Gwyn

 

 

Balada de la casa

 

Hallarás una casa con un nombre extraño

que intentarás descifrar en vano

Y muros del color de los buenos sueños

Pero tú no verás ese color

Tampoco beberás el vino rojo de los ciruelos

que ensancha los recuerdos

En la verja

un niño con un libro entreabierto

Pregúntale por el camino de los grandes árboles

cuyos frutos guarda un animal

que adormece a los andantes con sólo mirarlos

Y él contestará mientras conversa

con un ángel de alas verdes

(como si fuera otro niño que juega al ángel

y se hubiera colocado anchas hojas de plátano a la espalda)

moviendo apenas los labios en un leve conjuro

“el canto del gallo no es azul sino de un rosa dormido

como el primer claro del día”

Y tú no entenderás. Y sin embargo

hallarás un zaguán que yo recorrí inmenso

donde cuelga el retrato de un señor que resplandece

levemente, con el corazón en la mano

Y al fondo, muy al fondo

el alma de la casa sentada en una mecedora, cantando

Pero tú no la escucharás

 

Pues, en ese instante

Un sonido lejano ajará el horizonte

Y el niño habrá pasado la última de las páginas

 

Rómulo Bustos Aguirre (Colombia)

 

Creative Nonfiction

16 Apr
Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer, Brixton, London, 1988

 

I find a great Paris Review interview in ‘The Art of Nonfiction’ series from  a couple of years ago with Geoff Dyer, who begins by disagreeing with the parameters of his own interview, interrupting the interviewer as follows:

INTERVIEWER

The first thing I’d like—

DYER

Excuse me for interrupting, but—at the risk of sounding like some war criminal in the Hague who refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court in which he’s being tried—I have to object to the parameters of this interview.

INTERVIEWER

On what grounds?

DYER

It’s titled “The Art of Nonfiction.” Now I could whine, “What about the fiction?” but that would be to accept a distinction that’s not sustainable. Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.

INTERVIEWER

You don’t distinguish between them at all?

DYER

I don’t think a reasonable assessment of what I’ve been up to in the last however many years is possible if one accepts segregation. That refusal is part of what the books are about. I think of all of them as, um, what’s the word? Ah, yes, books. I haven’t subjected it to scientific analysis, but if you look at the proportion of made-up stuff in the so-called novels versus the proportion of made-up stuff in the others, I would expect they’re pretty much the same.

Later in the interview, Dyer makes mention of David Hare’s remark that the two most depressing words in the English language are ‘literary fiction’, and then goes on to add that ‘creative nonfiction’ might well have taken over as the most odious of collocations. Since I teach a module entitled precisely ‘creative nonfiction’ at the university where I work, I am going to have to think out a pretty clear disclaimer at the start of each semester. Well, the kind of disclaimer I make already, to be fair.

Essentially we are talking about a distinction with which readers of this blog will be familiar, if not, I hope, entirely bored. ‘Creative nonfiction’ is creative by virtue (I guess) of having been written, and ‘nonfiction’, I suppose, by virtue of it not being ’fiction’, or ‘made up’. (I note also that the term itself used to be hyphenated (non-fiction), making it a challenge to, or questioning of, the thing it was not, but now that the hyphen has gone, the beast has been assimilated as a single concept, wearing its non-ness with pride, as it were). So Nonfiction is defined by what it is not. It is not ‘made up stuff’, but stuff that really happened. However, following the criteria established by Borges, and discussed by Blanco here, that ‘everything is fiction’ then how can such a genre as ‘nonfiction’, let alone ‘creative nonfiction’ occur? Why do we need these ridiculous denominations? Why can we not, as Dyer suggests, just have ‘books’?

In his account of acting as W.G. Sebald’s publisher, Christopher MacLehose describes Sebald’s resistance to The Rings of Saturn as being categorised within any literary genre at all: memoir, history, fiction, holocaust studies, travel writing etc: he wanted ‘all of them’, claims MacLehose – and yet, one suspects, at the same time, he wanted none of them. MacLehose says that the craving for categorisation makes booksellers happy, so that they can put the shelving in order, tell staff what to put where: well that seems fair, you have to have some criteria, cookery books for example, gardening etc, but then again . . . are cookery and gardening books not also examples of ‘creative nonfiction’? And what about ‘Poetry’?

To be continued, ad infinitum . . .

Epic poetry and canine aficionados

21 Jul

Posting a few pictures as a last offering from my trip to Colombia:

The approach over Santo Domingo by cable car

The approach over Santo Domingo by cable car, with the city of Medellín beyond.

Wall grafitti

Wall grafitti, Santo Domingo

Bank note 'Mil Latinos sin oro'

Bank note ‘Mil Latinos sin oro’, Santo Domingo

Spanish Library, Santo Domingo

Spanish Library, Santo Domingo

The lettering on the banknote displayed in the wall graffiti suggests that a thousand poor die for each 1000 peso banknote in the idle republic – well, that is one interpretation – and it was displayed in Santo Domingo, once a zone of Medellín riven by incessant gang warfare. Now it is home to a stylish library, designed by the architect Giancarlo Mazzanti and built in 2006-7 with Spanish money (just in time, I guess: there won’t be any more of that coming for a while), which I visited with Jorge and Moya. The people in the library were very friendly and showed us the new theatre. There are lots of places for kids to play intelligent games and read books, but there weren’t actually many kids around, apart from a couple who tried tapping us for money in a playground on the way in.

Below, a solitary canine fan awaits the start of our reading last Saturday morning in the hot and lazy town of Tarso, three hours’ drive from Medellín.

My fan

And finally, a photo of the amphitheatre where the main poetry readings took place later the same day. This shot is from the closing recital, where the packed auditorium was composed of over 2,000 listeners of all ages. They sat there in the heat (the readings began at 4 pm) while the poets lurched their way through the marihuana fumes emanating from the audience to read their pomes (sic). I don’t know why, but the applause became louder and louder as the six-hour performance wore on. I’m certain this response had little or no bearing on the quality of the poetry, but it filled my heart with warmth and genuine respect for the Colombian people. After all they’ve been through over the past thirty years, withstanding a poetry recital of such epic proportions surely demands astonishing powers of endurance. I salute them.

Medellín International Poetry Festival, closing night

Medellín International Poetry Festival, closing night

The Question

31 Mar

 

THE QUESTION

 by Tom Pow

 

 

How do people live?

He was standing two in front of me

in W. H. Smith’s and what

he wanted to know was,

How do people live? He asked

the question as if someone

had given it to him as a gift –

his eyes shone with the wonder of it.

How do people live? He looked around

at us all, knowing the question to be

unanswerable, knowing that no one

had an option but to shake their heads

or to look down at their hands,

holding Heat magazine

or the day’s trivia or greeting cards

which laid claim to the most minor

matters concerning how people live.

Yet he must keep on asking the question –

though a couple of girls giggle,

a boy exhales testily

and a child begins to cry –

for it was never the same question

twice. Each time there was

a subtle difference to it.

How do people live? implied

something substantially different

to How do people live? It was

a question of weighting: one

suggested method, the other

a question of will. Clearly,

to him, it was all a mystery

and a miracle. And who was not

in the queue that morning

who did not feel something stir,

as that man, with the worn trench-coat

and the unkempt grey hair, asked

and asked again, How do people live?

How do people live nowadays?

This new inflection brought the question

close. How could it not, when each day

we saw the world burn, flags on fire,

hatred woven through the air? This question

had a smell. It was acrid –

gunpowder, dying seas, a last

sour gasp. The sound

was of languages falling silent;

children crying, a mother’s despair.

 

Then, like a ringmaster, he cracked

the whip of that first question again,

as if he had cleared the decks

of the clogging world and we heard

with a new clarity: How do people live?

The question deepened now.

He was rowing us out to the centre

of a loch, where the waters were so dark

as to be impenetrable. But it was the only question

worth asking, though asking it made life

seem chancy. How do people live?

Where was the next breath

coming from? We were climbers

on a cliff of blue ice. We’d slip.

Nothing surer. The space was terrifying.

We watched a lottery ticket float into it,

as worthless as everything, now

that all we wanted was to hold an answer

to us – it was all that could save us.

How do people live? There was no

David Attenborough to tell us

how to make huts, to invent fire,

to carve a hole in the ice. We were far out.

Unreachable. How do people live? What more

could he have done but ask the question –

though asking it gave no relief?

 

He nodded slightly in his shabby coat, then left us,

to invent fire, to carve a hole for himself in the ice.

 

 

From The Poem Goes To Prison – Poems chosen by readers at HMP Barlinnie, edited by Kate Hendry (Scottish Poetry Library 2010).

Brief from Nicaragua

15 Feb

At four in the morning there is a noise of riotous celebration from the nearby square, but I cannot be bothered to make it to the balcony to discover its source. Then there is an hour or so of quiet before the deafening screech of birdsong that signals both the beginning and the end of daylight in the tropics. From the trees circling the park hundreds of birds dance, joust, leap and dive in a frenzied avian fiesta.

 

Cloud forest at Mombacho

 

Yesterday began with an excursion to the cloud forest volcano of Mombacho – in which we saw howler monkeys

 

howler monkey from rear

 

and many birds, including the black headed trogon (trogón cabecinegro, in Spanish) pictured here,

 

Black headed trogon

 

after visiting two coffee plantations, sampling their delicious brews, and witnessing a possum asleep in a bucket

 

Possum in a bucket

Our excellent guide José, and friends, at Mombacho

 

– and concluded with an interminable poetry reading, extremely mixed in quality, but beginning with a single (new) poem by Ernesto Cardenal on the sacking of the museum of Baghdad, and ending with Derek Walcott, again reading a single poem, Sea Grapes. Between these two octogenarian maestros – and with one or two exceptions – a number of distinctly indifferent poets went on for far too long, though I will refrain from mentioning the worst offenders.

Granada is an extraordinary festival, which is growing in importance and recognition, but which needs reining in and the exertion of greater balance in the selection of invited poets. This year, like last, I have met some wonderful individuals, made new friends, and learned a lot, but have also had to listen to far too much bad poetry. Fortunately, Walcott’s Sea Grapes does not fall into this category.

 

 Sea Grapes

That sail which leans on light,
tired of islands,
a schooner beating up the Caribbean

for home, could be Odysseus,
home-bound on the Aegean;
that father and husband’s

longing, under gnarled sour grapes, is
like the adulterer hearing Nausicaa’s name
in every gull’s outcry.

This brings nobody peace. The ancient war
between obsession and responsibility
will never finish and has been the same

for the sea-wanderer or the one on shore
now wriggling on his sandals to walk home,
since Troy sighed its last flame,

and the blind giant’s boulder heaved the trough
from whose groundswell the great hexameters come
to the conclusions of exhausted surf.

The classics can console. But not enough.

 

Or you can listen to Walcott reading it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The resentment and insecurity of the poet

8 Feb

 

Pedro Serrano points me towards an article in the current New York Review of Books, about William Carlos Williams. In it, Adam Kirsch mentions Williams’ sense – whether it was true or not – of having been scorned by Pound, and other acquaintances, writing: “I ground my teeth out of resentment, though I acknowledge their privilege to step on my face if they could.” T.S. Eliot comes in for some particularly harsh judgement: “Maybe I’m wrong”, he wrote to Pound, “but I distrust that bastard more than any writer I know in the world today.”

And yet, Kirsch, reminds us, “If you look at the lingua franca of American poetry today – a colloquial free verse focused on visual description and meaningful anecdote – it seems clear that Williams is the twentieth-century poet who has done most to influence our very conception of what poetry should do, and how much it does not need to do.” It might be added that D.H. Lawrence carried out a very similar seminal role in British poetics.

There is much else that is good to think with in this article, some of it coming from Randall Jarrell, an acute reader of Williams, whom he considered “an intellectual in neither the good nor the bad sense of the word.” I think I know what that means, but maybe not . . .

In his autobiography Williams claims that what drove him to write was anger – somewhat like Cervantes – and his anger was clearly kept warm by his self-doubt and insecurity, his dislike or loathing of certain contemporaries (especially Eliot, of whom he claimed, late in life, to be “insanely jealous”) and his fear that he was not considered an ‘important’ poet.

How terrible the tribulations – real or imagined – of the poet, how fragile the music.

 

 

 

 

 

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