Monday, November 29, 2021

Mark Strand / Keeping Things Whole

Keeping Things Whole
By Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Mark Strand / Breath

When you see them
tell them I am still here,
that I stand on one leg while the other one dreams,
that this is the only way,

that the lies I tell them are different
from the lies I tell myself,
that by being both here and beyond
I am becoming a horizon,

that as the sun rises and sets I know my place,
that breath is what saves me,
that even the forced syllables of decline are breath,
that if the body is a coffin it is also a closet of breath,

that breath is a mirror clouded by words,
that breath is all that survives the cry for help
as it enters the stranger's ear
and stays long after the world is gone,

that breath is the beginning again, that from it
all resistance falls away, as meaning falls
away from life, or darkness fall from light,
that breath is what I give them when I send my love.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Mark Strand / Coming to This

Coming to This
We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry   
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.   
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.   
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.   
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.
Mark Strand
Selected Poems
Alfred A. Knopf, 1990

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Mark Strand / Another Place

Another Place
by Mark Strand
I walk
into what light
there is

not enough for blindness
or clear sight
of what is to come
yet I see
the water
the single boat
the man standing

he is not someone I know

this is another place
what light there is
spreads like a net
over nothing

what is to come
has come to this

this is the mirror
in which pain is asleep
this is the country
nobody visits.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Mark Strand’s Playful Collages


Mark Strand’s Playful Collages


Rachel Arons
September 24, 2013

Before Mark Strand became one of the great contemporary American poets, he trained as a painter. At Yale in the nineteen-fifties, he studied under the color theorist Josef Albers, and throughout his life he has continued making paintings, prints, and collages. In recent years, Strand, a former Poet Laureate of the United States and professor of literature, most recently at Columbia, has moved away from writing altogether to focus on art. A collection of his collages, made in Madrid and New York, is currently on display at the Lori Bookstein gallery, in Chelsea. Over e-mail, I asked Strand about collage, color theory, and the connection between his poetry and his art. (In the questions, I refer several times to an interview with Dr. Melissa Birdwell—actually, a tongue-in-cheek interview Strand conducted with himself for the catalogue that accompanied an exhibit of his collages last year in Shanghai.)

The collage pieces currently on display at Lori Bookstein are made not from found materials but from paper you made and colored yourself, at the Dieu Donné artists’ space here in New York. Can you explain a little about the paper-making process—what draws you to it and how you incorporate it into your collages?

Well, making paper is fun. Mixing pigment with pulp and adding the blend to the pulp that will eventually become a sheet of paper is wonderfully absorbing. With something called “formation aid” I use my hands to create the various swirls, swoops, drops, and dribbles that bind with the basic sheet of pulp. That basic sheet can be thick or thin, opaque or transparent, black or white or any color I wish. This is the first stage in the making of my collages. I make papers that I believe I can use or that I envision using. I am helped by [the Dieu Donné founder] Sue Gosin, who got me started making paper.

In your interview with Dr. Birdwell, “she” points out that your work has less in common with that of surrealist-collage artists like Kurt Schwitters than with the playful paintings of artists like Paul Klee or de Kooning, who, early in his career, painted simple geometric shapes. Francine Prose, who wrote the introduction to Lori Bookstein’s exhibition catalogue, observed that the torn scraps in your pieces seem to be exchanging “playful, private jokes.” Is making these collages a fun, joyful process for you?

I wanted to make collages that looked something like paintings, and that did not look like other people’s collages. I did not want mine to be literary in any way or to suggest the surreal. I started collaging as an escape from making meaning. I got tired of writing poems, of trying to make sense—verbal sense. It is a relief to make a different kind of sense—visual sense. One must think, of course, but it is an entirely different kind of thinking, one in which language does not intrude. Cutting and tearing paper and pasting the pieces down gives me an immense amount of pleasure. It is as if I were in kindergarten again.

Birdwell also points out that Josef Albers, whom you studied under at Yale, has influenced your artwork by “sensitizing you to the possibilities of color rather than your color performing in the ways that his does.” Can you explain a bit more about how Albers’s colors performed, and how your work does and doesn’t draw upon his color theory?

Albers sensitized me to the possibilities of color, how one color can influence another color, change it even, turning, say, a green into a gray or a brown into a red. I don’t do any of the things demonstrated in his invaluable book “The Interaction of Color,” but having taken his color course twice I am certainly aware of the possibilities that color offers. And then, too, there is the simple fact that some colors simply look good together when one hadn’t thought that they could; the right pictorial conditions have to be created for this to happen.

In your interview with Birdwell, you declined to comment on the relationship between your collage and your poetry, but I will venture to ask about one link between the two: the relationship between control and accident. On the one hand, you have great control over the outcome of these collages, since you made the raw materials yourself. But you’ve also said that “the chance juxtaposition of two pieces of paper” can influence the tone or character of your collages. In relation to your poetry, you’ve said that the surreal elements of your poems often come from moments in writing when “language takes over, and I follow it.” Can you say a little about the role of accident in your collage and your poetry?

Accident plays a major role in both my collage making and poetry writing. I try to combine surprise and inevitability to make something unique, but one can’t do this rationally. The unexpected, the unanticipated must be the determining factor.

You’ve stopped writing poetry in recent years to focus on making visual art. You’ve also taken breaks from writing in the past and then returned to it. Do you think you’re really done writing this time, or do you feel yourself being called back to it?

Who knows? I may return to writing, although I doubt it. Maybe more prose pieces like the ones in my recent book “Almost Invisible.” Right now, I feel like I am on vacation, and I want the vacation to continue.

Art: Courtesy of Mark Strand and Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York

Rachel Arons is the deputy culture editor of


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Poem of the week / An Autumn Sunset by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton
by Edward Harrison May

Poem of the week

An Autumn Sunset by Edith Wharton

Best known for her fiction, the novelist was also an occasionally glorious poet, as this reflection on a fiery sky shows 

Carol Rumens
Mon 1 Sep 2014 11.16 BST

There's a faint Keatsian flavour to this week's poem, An Autumn Sunset, by the multi-talented American novelist Edith Wharton. "Some ancient land forlorn" echoes the Ode to a Nightingale's "faery lands forlorn", and the rich colouration and sturdy construction might seem Keatsian, too. But Wharton's vision, technique and range of vocabulary are clearly her own. Overall, the structure is more classically Ode-like than Keats's studies in the form, and the effect suggests a "back to basics" invigoration. It was first published in 1894, in Scribner's Magazine, and perhaps some spirit of the fin de siècle looms over it, too.

Wharton's variation of two-, three- and five-stress lines is melodically effective, and underlined by a fine ear for sonorities. The opening lines of her two stanzas chime alliteratively, while rhythmically setting up contrasted moods. "Leagured in fire," with a dactyl's heavy first stress, heralds the martial advance in the first stanza and "Lagooned in gold," gently iambic, introduces the more elegiac tone of the second. Adjectives cluster thickly, but there's no unplanned-for stasis. In the first stanza, the poet's camera pans over the sky, relishing the paradoxical movement of the storm-clouds "halting higher" (a distant but audible rhyme with "fire"), massing their forces only to be penned in. There's a telling pause when the long opening sentence itself "stands at bay" in line eight, and a further long sentence begins with a uniquely memorable personification, "Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day … " That word choice, "fascinated", illustrates the novelist's gift for highlighting, by a word or phrase, a character's innermost response. The day, later a "wan valkyrie", is the character in this instance, and, like the speaker, like the reader, she is intently watching the elemental battle. The use of Norse rather than Greek mythology heightens this elemental quality. It's the valkyrie who, like a primitive Statue of Liberty, shines her torch in the penultimate line. But this creature's grimmer purpose is to "search the faces of the dead". Wharton's polysyllabic words – "fascinated", "wind-lustrated", "ensanguined" – extend the reach of her valkyrie's-eye view: they're almost visual effects.

In the gentler lighting of the next stanza, the "jetty promontories" seem to be symbols of mourning. Perhaps they resemble architectural "jetties" but they are also "jetty" in an allusion to jet, the black beads worn in Wharton's day to express grief. The ensuing Keatsian echo is lessened by the rhyme of "ancient land forlorn" with "uncomforted of morn". (Keats, of course, repeated "forlorn" in his following stanza, and who could follow that stroke of genius?) Perhaps Wharton is also remembering Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach when she writes: "The melancholy unconsoling fold / Of all things that go utterly to death … " But the flow of those two iambic pentameters could hardly be bettered, and "unconsoling fold" is an inspired, ambiguous pairing. As in stanza one, movement and stillness interact; note for instance the contrast between Time's ferrying and the "sailless sea" – a sea suggesting the terrible "painted ocean" of Coleridge's stranded Ancient Mariner.

The eight-line opening sentence parallels that of stanza one: this time, though, it will form a question, as will all the ensuing sentences, and the stanza's anguished rhetoric is allowed an extra seven lines. The caesura in line 12, after "miserable marriage", is an eloquent pause, alerting us to what might be personal in the metaphor. Imagination can't be cancelled, though: there are still "the sea's golden barrier and the black / Close-crouching promontories" and the speaker remains enticingly visible as "a shadow's shade". The plural lends the abstract nouns, "shames" and "glories", a private resonance, undisclosed and paining; then, in a new narrative twist, the speaker is revealed as one of a couple ("we") and the second person specifically addressed ("the coming of your feet".). Reunion with this person (husband? lover?) in the afterlife is proffered imaginatively as it's refuted. But framed by a question ("Nay, shall not / All things be there forgot … ") the refutation leaves a tiny opening. Despite – or because of – the violent and visceral imagery of dissolution ("So purged of all remembrance and sucked back / Into the primal void … "), it seems that post-mortem consciousness may be the real threat, and oblivion the more desirable alternative.

This ambivalence is just one sinew in the poem's intelligence. Wharton's most significant work was as a novelist, but she was clearly a gifted poet who had read widely and thoughtfully, and understood that a raid or two on the past is no shame, and may lead to moments of original glory.

An Autumn Sunset

Leaguered in fire
The wild black promontories of the coast extend
Their savage silhouettes;
The sun in universal carnage sets,
And, halting higher,
The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats,
Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned,
That, balked, yet stands at bay.
Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day
In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline,
A wan valkyrie whose wide pinions shine
Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray,
And in her hand swings high o'erhead,
Above the waste of war,
The silver torch-light of the evening star
Wherewith to search the faces of the dead.

Lagooned in gold,
Seem not those jetty promontories rather
The outposts of some ancient land forlorn,
Uncomforted of morn,
Where old oblivions gather,
The melancholy unconsoling fold
Of all things that go utterly to death
And mix no more, no more
With life's perpetually awakening breath?
Shall Time not ferry me to such a shore,
Over such sailless seas,
To walk with hope's slain importunities
In miserable marriage? Nay, shall not
All things be there forgot,
Save the sea's golden barrier and the black
Close-crouching promontories?
Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories,
Shall I not wander there, a shadow's shade,
A spectre self-destroyed,
So purged of all remembrance and sucked back
Into the primal void,
That should we on that shore phantasmal meet
I should not know the coming of your feet?


Friday, November 19, 2021

Pantoum for Abdulfatah Hamdallah by Jessica Slote

Abdulfatah Hamdallah, whose body was found on Sangatte beach, near Calais.


by jessica slote

Drowned Sudanese refugee identified as Abdulfatah Hamdallah
Believed to have made Channel crossing after asylum refused in France
Drowned while trying to cross Channel in inflatable dinghy with shovels for oars
Risked dangerous crossing for better life than “horror” he used to live in

Believed to have made Channel crossing after asylum refused in France
Before setting out, told cousin in Calais that he might not see him again
Risked dangerous crossing for better life than “horror” he used to live in
French MP blames tragedy on UK policy: asylum claims must be made on British soil

Before setting out, told cousin in Calais that he might not see him again
Originally from West Kordofan, Sudanese state bordering on war-torn Darfur
French MP blames tragedy on UK policy: asylum claims must be made on British soil
Dropped out of school in 2014 to go work in Libya with his brothers

Originally from West Kordofan, Sudanese state bordering on war-torn Darfur
“thought it was meaningless to study; nothing to do in Sudan, that’s why he left”
Dropped out of school in 2014 to go work in Libya with his brothers
Two years in Libya working at car wash; made it to France via Italy; living rough in camps

“thought it was meaningless to study; nothing to do in Sudan, that’s why he left”
last words in Arabic on FB: “on palm of fate we walk, don’t know what’s written”
Two years in Libya working at car wash; made it to France via Italy; living rough in camps
Hundreds of messages of condolence under post, after his body was found

last words on FB in Arabic: “on palm of fate we walk, don’t know what’s written”
Drowned while trying to cross Channel in inflatable dinghy with shovels for oars
Hundreds of messages of condolence under post, after his body was found
Drowned Sudanese refugee identified as Abdulfatah Hamdallah

Jessica Slote is a writer and performer, co-founder of Loretta Auditorium, a collaborative of theatre artists. Her book, Loretta Auditorium Presents The Body of Loretta, published by Fly By Night Press, NYC.

The Body of Loretta: Three Plays on The Pornography of Power, Free Will on the Free Market, and Arousal in the Public Realm. Part memoir of a life in the experimental theatre scene of New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1980s-90s; part account of the collective creation of three plays in three cities—NYC, Berlin, and Napoli; and the three plays of the Loretta trilogy.


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Kate Clancy / The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group


Ilustration by Eleonor Shakespeare

The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group

When Kate Clanchy began teaching the children of refugees, she sought out those silenced by trauma and loss. Their weekly sessions released a torrent of untold stories

Kate Clanchy
Thursday 14 July 2016

It all came from Priya’s poem, and Priya’s poem came from – well, I had no idea. It was an unlikely thing to turn up in a pile of marking. Yet there it was, tucked between two ordinary effusions, typed in a silly, curly, childish font, a sonorous description, framed with exquisite irony, of everything she couldn’t remember about her “mother country”. This was the opening:

I don’t remember her
in the summer,
lagoon water sizzling,
the kingfisher leaping,
or even the sweet honey mangoes
they tell me I used to love.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Spiritual Experience by Cristina Peri Rossi

Spiritual Experience
By Cristina Peri Rossi
Translated by Diana Decker

She told me that she was looking for a spiritual experience
a very serious thing
in the world there were some two thousand religions
without taking into account the sects

but she wanted something else
“I want a spiritual experience”
she told me

I believe that I hadn’t had that
I had had war experiences
and revolutions sensorial experiences
musical experiences work experiences

unless we consider that being in ecstasy in front of a Turner or
Caspar David Friedrich shipwreck

was a spiritual experience

unless reading J.G. Ballard
or Vallejo’s poems
were spiritual experiences

I had also had several experiences with sunsets
splendid in the port of Santa Maria
the Southern light, the brilliant light of the South,

but she told me that it wasn’t about any of that
it wasn’t about the sadness that Chopin’s études caused me
or Satie’s Gymnopédies which now are in the cell phones

she told me it was something else

Then she went to India
and I didn’t follow her
because I have seen much misery in this world

without reaching the necessary degree of spirituality

She spent some two years in India
and when she returned she was slimmer
How are you doing? she asked me
The usual, I answered

I write a bit read some play mahjong in the internet

sometimes a car hits me

but in general, I continue without having spiritual experiences
so I asked her how had it been in India
and she answered that well
very well
she had had a spiritual experience

-she said-

that turned all orgasms
frivolous and ridiculous

I thought that for that it wasn’t necessary to go to India
it was enough having reached menopause.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Passion by Cristina Peri Rossi


The Passion
by Cristina Peri Rossi
Translated by Diana Decker

We emerged from love
as if from an aerial catastrophe
We had lost our clothes
our documents
I was missing a tooth
and you had lost track of time
Was it a year as long as a century
or a century as short as a day?
Among the furniture
around the house
broken rubble:
glasses photos torn books
We were survivors
of a collapse
of a volcano
of raging waters
And we parted with the vague feeling
of having survived
though we didn’t know what for.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

To Live Twice by Cristina Peri Rossi


To Live Twice
by Cristina Peri Rossi
Translation by Arturo Desimone

Memory is an overlife.
While I lean to kiss you
to caress your bosoms
I think of the overlife that shall supervene me
in your memory

I will live beyond my years
in the seam of your neck so white
as the lunar glow
one evening, in Calella,
in the month of August,
year: two thousand and six,

I will live beyond my years
in your memory of a nocturnal woman
who, from the cot, gazes
at the window through which a city like a Richard Estes painting
flickers its lights on and off
between the billboards of Banks and of Safe-houses
cars and offices 

I will live beyond my years
in your memory  
of the woman who, in loving me loves herself within my love 

and you will remember the feather crest 
with which you covered your nakedness 

and the bottle of water fallen in the midst of kisses
and the glow of your muted television
which blankly illuminated our bodies
darkening them at times
like under-eyelid-halfmoons in the middle of the skin
Memory is an overlife
As I lean to kiss you
I know I live doubly
the time of this lukewarm autumn night
on which I caressed you by my hands
with my fingers with thoughts and with my voice
and the double-life and your memory
in which we loved
beyond time itself
in the middle 
in the middle of an illuminated 
and silent city
which does not sleep

because we held the vigils
we kept the vigils of enjoyment
the vigils of love.