Where we live

Over slow-simmered, vinegary dishes of tripe and pork we listen to tales—

of the watershed plowed through by a local politician’s earth-movers,
and the soil loosened around the base of trees. When they fall
it is not from the axe or the chainsaw but from this thing
they call development.

The dazed houses lean upon each other for support.
The cherubs that flank the cathedral’s main doors sport new
coats of golden paint, but the bowls they hold out are empty.

In the window frame, a spider-thread collects drops
of damp tribute: condensation from days of unending rain,
and inside, from the heat made by our own bodies
though we can hardly remember what the air

smelled like, untinted, before the wilderness ceased singing.


In response to Via Negativa: Peuple inhabite....


(Lord’s day). At church alone in the pew in the morning. In the afternoon by water I carried my wife to Westminster, where she went to take leave of her father, and I to walk in the Park, which is now every day more and more pleasant, by the new works upon it. Here meeting with Laud Crispe, I took him to the farther end, and sat under a tree in a corner, and there sung some songs, he singing well, but no skill, and so would sing false sometimes. Then took leave of him, and found my wife at my Lord’s lodging, and so took her home by water, and to supper in Sir W. Pen’s balcony, and Mrs. Keene with us, and then came my wife’s brother, and then broke up, and to bed.

alone in the west
her father is now every day
meeting with the end

a tree in a corner
would sing of water

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 27 July 1662.


Some nights press
like a hand at the base of a throat.

We do not know when
precisely to enter the chorus,

but a kind of vibration
holds our sails open—

And we press back
at the darkness, wing by wing.

A genius for brevity: Alejandra Pizarnik

This entry is part 26 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Alejandra PizarnikI’ve long admired the writing of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), but her mastery of the short poem has become an especially important inspiration for me in the past two and a half years since I began my Pepys Diary erasure project, as I’ve struggled to make whole-seeming poems with very few words. During this same period, a new Pizarnik translator has appeared on the scene, Yvette Siegert. Her translations of El infierno musical (A Musical Hell, New Directions, 2013) and Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014) are so perfect, I almost didn’t bother attempting any of my own translations from those collections. But finally I couldn’t resist, telling myself it would be a worthwhile exercise to deliberately make my versions as different from hers as I could, since of course there’s never such a thing as a definitive translation. Nevertheless, I still think hers are better in every instance. (Check out her essay “Forgetting Language: Translating Diana’s Tree.”) As for my other translations below, they too should be left in the dust in two months’ time, when Siegert’s translation of all of Pizarnik’s middle and late poems, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962 – 1972, is due out.

Somewhat shockingly, this will be, as the publisher (New Directions) notes, “The first full-length collection in English by one of Latin America’s most significant twentieth-century poets.” For those who have some Spanish, there’s a generous selection of Pizarnik poems at a website devoted to poètes maudits: Escritores Malditos. (Pizarnik certainly deserves inclusion in such a gathering, especially since Rimbaud and Lautréamont were among her biggest influences.) Finally, for anyone with even a passing interest in Latin American literature or the relationship between writing and mental illness, let alone the background and tumultuous life of a great poet, I highly recommend the award-winning documentary Alejandra, by Argentine filmmakers Ernesto Ardito and Virna Molina. It tells Pizarnik’s story through interviews with her sister, her biographer, and various friends and lovers as well as through excerpts from her diary, letters and poems. It’s a highly poetic documentary in the way it was written and shot, and is simply an outstanding film in every way (except for the English translation in the subtitles, which is slightly dodgy in places).


from Tree of Diana (Árbol de Diana)


for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth

por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo


you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began

has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó


a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos


for André Pieyre de Mandiargues

We live with one hand on the throat here. Those who used to invent the rains and spin words from the torment of absence already realized that nothing is possible. That’s why their prayers had the sound of hands in love with fog.

Aquí vivimos con una mano en la garganta. Que nada es posible ya lo sabían los que inventaban lluvias y tejían palabras con el tormento de la ausencia. Por eso en sus plegarias había un sonido de manos enamoradas de la niebla.

a André Pieyre de Mandiargues



for Emily Dickinson

On the other side of the night
her name is waiting for her,
her surreptitious urge to live—
on the other side of the night!

Something cries in the air;
sounds are sketching out the dawn.
She ponders eternity.


para Emily Dickinson

Del otro lado de la noche
la espera su nombre,
su subrepticio anhelo de vivir,
¡del otro lado de la noche!

Algo llora en el aire,
los sonidos diseñan el alba.
Ella piensa en la eternidad.



Miniscule lady
tenant in the heart of a bird
she goes out at dawn to pronounce a single syllable


Dama pequeñísima
moradora en el corazón de un pájaro
sale al alba a pronunciar una sílaba


Like Water Over a Stone

whoever goes back to pursue a former pursuit
night closes over her like water over a stone
like air over a bird
like two bodies closing to make love

Como agua sobre una piedra

a quien retorna en busca de su antiguo buscar
la noche se le cierra como agua sobre una piedra
como aire sobre un pájaro
como se cierran dos cuerpos al amarse


Vertigos, or Meditation on Something that Ends

The lilac sheds its leaves.
It falls away from itself
and conceals its old shadow.
I should die from things like this.

Vértigos o contemplación de algo que termina

Esta lila se deshoja.
Desde sí misma cae
y oculta su antigua sombra.
He de morir de cosas así.


The Musical Inferno

They beat with suns

Nothing connects to anything else here

And with so much dead animal in the graveyard of my memory’s pointed bones

And with so many nuns like crows flocking in to peck between my legs

I’m broken by the weight of these shards

Tainted dialogue

A desperate dice-throw of verbiage

Liberated in herself

Sinking like a ship into herself

El infierno musical

Golpean con soles

Nada se acopla con nada aquí

Y de tanto animal muerto en el cementerio de huesos filosos de mi memoria

Y de tantas monjas como cuervos que se precipitan a hurgar entre mis piernas

La cantidad de fragmentos me desgarra

Impuro diálogo

Un proyectarse desesperado de la materia verbal

Liberada a sí misma

Naufragando en sí misma



Not the trees, not the river that cut
through mud-bloated mountains—

Not the deer that once heralded the cold,
sweet waters with their grazing—

Not the gods that sat, soot-
blackened, in their stone circles—

None of these greeted us at our approach:
only the choked houses cloaked in rain.


Sir W. Batten, Mr. Pett, and I at the office sitting all the morning. So dined at home, and then to my office again, causing the model hanging in my chamber to be taken down and hung up in my office, for fear of being spoilt by the workmen, and for my own convenience of studying it.
This afternoon I had a letter from Mr. Creed, who hath escaped narrowly in the King’s yacht, and got safe to the Downs after the late storm; and that there the King do tell him, that he is sure that my Lord is landed at Callis safe, of which being glad, I sent news thereof to my Lord Crew, and by the post to my Lady into the country. This afternoon I went to Westminster; and there hear that the King and Queen intend to come to White Hall from Hampton Court next week, for all winter. Thence to Mrs. Sarah, and there looked over my Lord’s lodgings, which are very pretty; and White Hall garden and the Bowling-ally (where lords and ladies are now at bowles), in brave condition. Mrs. Sarah told me how the falling out between my Lady Castlemaine and her Lord was about christening of the child lately, which he would have, and had done by a priest: and, some days after, she had it again christened by a minister; the King, and Lord of Oxford, and Duchesse of Suffolk, being witnesses: and christened with a proviso, that it had not already been christened. Since that she left her Lord, carrying away every thing in the house; so much as every dish, and cloth, and servant but the porter. He is gone discontented into France, they say, to enter a monastery; and now she is coming back again to her house in Kingstreet. But I hear that the Queen did prick her out of the list presented her by the King; desiring that she might have that favour done her, or that he would send her from whence she come: and that the King was angry and the Queen discontented a whole day and night upon it; but that the King hath promised to have nothing to do with her hereafter. But I cannot believe that the King can fling her off so, he loving her too well: and so I writ this night to my Lady to be my opinion; she calling her my lady, and the lady I admire. Here I find that my Lord hath lost the garden to his lodgings, and that it is turning into a tennis-court.
Hence by water to the Wardrobe to see how all do there, and so home to supper and to bed.

hanging for fear
or for convenience
this narrow country

in the winter garden
an owl christened with day

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 26 July 1662.

Retrouvailles / Reunions by Anne Brunelle

This entry is part 25 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Anne BrunelleA really neat piece by Anne Brunelle. Quite tricky in places with the tension between the literal & the dreamlike nature of memory, so I’d welcome suggestions for improvement.

Anne Brunelle is a poet & novelist, born in Montreal in 1956. Published in many journals & with two collections out.


blood-gold reflections of the kir
in the milky half-light
of a storm in apostrophes
gouts of mustard
on our forks of broken sticks

the swarm of babbled memories
buzzing through the dialogue
barely concealing the startled joy
of our vigilant bodies

an arabesque of pointillist brush-strokes
between the watercress beds
and the saffron of your eye

an old man busy on the pavement
pushing flakes with slow strokes of his broom

the candle snickers
our bubble reforms
your lips against my palm
sew the stitches of our reunion
whispering a picture clear and open
out of the incarnation
of a still unconsummated desire.



reflets d’or sanglant du kir
dans la demi-nuit laiteuse
d’une tempête en apostrophe
éclats de moutarde
sous nos fourchettes à bâtons rompus

la nuée de souvenirs babillards
effleure le dialogue
dissimule à peine l’euphorie étonnée
de nos corps à l’écoute

arabesque de frôlements pointillistes
entre le lit de cresson
et le safran de ton oeil

un vieil homme s’affaire sur le trottoir
dissémine à lents coups de balais
flocons et modestie

la chandelle ricane
notre bulle se reforme
tes lèvres sur ma paume
ourlent la saveur de nos retrouvailles
murmurent un portrait ouvert
sur l’incarnation
d’un désir toujours vierge

TROIS, volume 14, numéro 1, p. 136 (1999).


In room after room we found bags of clothing
that she could not bear to part with.

They looked like giant cocoons
where wings of all colors lay trapped, unmoving.

Arranged on the baluster: a row of perfectly positioned
umbrellas, their silks twirled up and fastened.

The red-framed windows held hundreds of seeds
of rain— each one, precursor to the next.


In response to Via Negativa: Hourglass.

Genesis of writing

At the office all the morning, reading Mr. Holland’s discourse of the Navy, lent me by Mr. Turner, and am much pleased with them, they hitting the very diseases of the Navy, which we are troubled with now-a-days. I shall bestow writing of them over and much reading thereof.
This morning Sir W. Batten came in to the office and desired to speak with me; he began by telling me that he observed a strangeness between him and me of late, and would know the reason of it, telling me he heard that I was offended with merchants coming to his house and making contracts there. I did tell him that as a friend I had spoke of it to Sir W. Pen and desired him to take a time to tell him of it, and not as a backbiter, with which he was satisfied, but I find that Sir W. Pen has played the knave with me, and not told it from me as a friend, but in a bad sense. He also told me that he heard that exceptions were taken at his carrying his wife down to Portsmouth, saying that the King should not pay for it, but I denied that I had spoke of it, nor did I. At last he desired the difference between our wives might not make a difference between us, which I was exceedingly glad to hear, and do see every day the fruit of looking after my business, which I pray God continue me in, for I do begin to be very happy. Dined at home, and so to the office all the afternoon again, and at night home and to bed.

The disease of writing
began with chants
and making a pen
take a bite from a bad,
mouth-sired fruit.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 25 July 1662.

Peuple inhabité / Population void by Yves Préfontaine

This entry is part 24 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Yves PréfontaineQuite a challenge, this one. It’s always a delicate balance that has to be maintained between ‘translation’ and ‘version’ so I shall be interested in any feedback from other Francophones.

I found a brief biog of Yves Préfontaine at the Electronic Poetry Centre (which, incidentally, opened for business way back in the mid ‘90s when there was virtually no poetry presence on the internet at all).

Born in 1937 in Montréal, poet Yves Préfontaine is an anthropologist by training. He published his first poems at the age of fifteen and released his first collection at twenty. At eighteen, he began his career as radio script writer at Radio-Canada, with some incursions into television. He organized, amongst other things, a series of fourteen shows with Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist – who was also originally from Montréal. In 1959, he co-founded the journals Situations and Le Québec libre; later he joined the editorial board of Liberté, of which he was the editor-in-chief from 1961 to 1962. […] His poems have been translated into English, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, and Croatian.

Read the rest.

Population void

I live in a region where the cold has beaten down the grass, where gloom lies heavy over the ghostly trees.

I live in silence amongst a dormant population, shivering under the frost of their words. I live amongst a people who have lost all language both fragile and forceful.

I live inside an all-embracing cry –
Speechless stone –
Sudden clifftops –
The winter a naked blade in my chest.

A snowdrift of exhaustion gently stifles this land in which I live.

And I prevail within the fog.
And I persist in speaking out.
And from my pain no echo returns.

A people’s language is their bread.
A place of light amongst the rotting wheat.

I live amongst a people who have lost themselves.
And the great territories of their joy wither beneath this endless tundra
This great disowned abundance.
I live inside a cry powerless now to pierce, to strike, to break through
these barriers of spittle and masks.
I live amongst a phantom people disowned like the ugly daughter.
And my footsteps mark a circle in this desert. A deluge of furious white faces surrounds me.

The land that I inhabit is a marble tableau under ice.
And this land empty of the men of light whispers in my blood
like a lover.
But I fight against this absence between my teeth, a poverty of words
that gleam and then are lost.


Peuple inhabité

J’habite un espace où le froid triomphe de l’herbe, où la grisaille règne
en lourdeur sur des fantômes d’arbres.

J’habite en silence un peuple qui sommeille, frileux sous le givre de ses mots. J’habite un peuple dont se tarit la parole frêle et brusque.

J’habite un cri tout alentour de moi –
Pierre sans verbe –
Falaise abrupte –
Lame nue dans ma poitrine l’hiver.

Une neige de fatigue étrangle avec douceur le pays que j’habite.

Et je persiste en des fumées.
Et je m’acharne à parler.
Et la blessure n’a point d’écho.

Le pain d’un peuple est sa parole.
Mais point de clarté dans le blé qui pourrit.

J’habite un peuple qui ne s’habite plus.
Et les champs entiers de la joie se flétrissent sous tant de sécheresse
Et tant de gerbes reniées.
J’habite un cri qui n’en peut plus de heurter, de cogner, d’abattre
Ces parois de crachats et de masques.
J’habite le spectre d’un peuple renié comme fille sans faste.
Et mes pas font un cercle en ce désert. Une pluie de visages blancs
Me cerne de fureur.

Le pays que j’habite est un marbre sous la glace.
Et ce pays sans hommes de lumière glisse dans mes veines comme
Femme que j’aime.
Or je sévis contre l’absence avec entre les dents, une pauvreté de mots
Qui brillent et se perdent.