Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Unknown poems by Katherine Mansfield found in a Chicago library

Katherine Mansfield
Illustration by Triunfo Arciniegas

Unknown poems 

by Katherine Mansfield 

found in a Chicago library

‘I couldn’t believe my eyes’ says Mansfield scholar as she uncovers a cache of ‘literary gold’

Cameron Robertson
Thursday 11 June 2015 10.00 BST

Nearly 30 unknown poems by Katherine Mansfield have been discovered in a US library, giving fresh insight into the writer’s most painful and difficult period, the evidence for which she had later destroyed.
Gerri Kimber, senior lecturer in English at the University of Northampton and chair of the Katherine Mansfield Society, made the discovery at Chicago’s Newberry Library in May this year. The collection’s significance had remained undetected until now because it was marked with a name similar to the New Zealand-born writer’s previously published poems.
“I had already looked at the Newberry’s Mansfield collection, and the folder said, ‘The Earth Child and other poems’. The poem ‘The Earth-Child in the Grass’ (its full title) had been published already,” said Kimber, who was attending a conference about Mansfield. “I had three days to spare so I wanted to go through every single thing the Newberry has pertaining to Mansfield. I thought, ‘I don’t recognise this one. Or this one. Or this one …’ I couldn’t believe my eyes!”

Kimber, series editor of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield, soon realised the folder in fact contained 26 unpublished poems (alongside a further nine that had been published already), two handwritten letters from Mansfield to a publisher, Mansfield’s calling card, and an auction dealer’s sale entry for the entire collection.
“Between 1909 to 1911 she destroyed as much personal material as she could find, I think because she was embarrassed and possibly ashamed of much of her conduct,” said Kimber. “We know she once smoked hashish with Aleister Crowley, had one – possibly two – abortions, as well as a traumatic stillbirth alone in Bavaria in June 1909, and an intense affair with a Polish émigré Floryan Sobieniowski, and then another affair when back in England in 1910, with young schoolmaster William Orton. This was a really difficult time for her. She was addicted to Veronal [barbiturates], and experimenting with life, her sexuality, all sorts. You could call this period hedonistic. As a result, uncovering any material from this period is literary gold for Mansfield scholars.”
In 1909, Mansfield was sent to Bavaria by her mother who believed a bizarre water treatment would turn her daughter away from lesbianism, explained Kimber. “I think her mother didn’t know that Katherine was pregnant and, while she was in Bavaria, she gave birth to a stillborn child.”
Mansfield stayed in Bavaria for another six months and Kimber says elements of the writer’s love affair with Sobieniowski are chronicled in this unpublished poetry. “Some of these poems are directly written for or about him,” said Kimber. “For example, number XXII begins, ‘In the swiftly moving sleigh / We sat curled up under the bear skin rugs / And talked of the dangers of life’, it is almost certain that this sleigh ride depicts Mansfield and Floryan. I do think these remarkable poems are going to offer new biographical detail.”
The business card in the folder also notes the writer’s name as “Katharina Mansfield”, a Slavic-influenced version that Kimber said Mansfield had signed on documents discovered previously, but no such calling card was known to exist.
The newly discovered poems represent a lost collection by Mansfield. The folder’s two letters, dated 8 November 1910 and 15 January 1911, chronicle her failed efforts to persuade publisher Elkin Mathews to print the poems. The second letter is written in a tongue-in-cheek style, pleading with the publisher to put her out of her misery on whether her material will be accepted or not. But the manuscript was never published and, if Mansfield did receive a note of rejection, it has not survived.

Katherine Mansfield’s follow-up letter to Elkin Mathews
Photograph: Courtesy the Newberry Library, Chicago

Handwritten by Mansfield to Elkin Mathews, the second letter reads:
Dear Mr. Mathews
May I hear from you soon the fate of my poor ‘Earth Child’ Poems – I really am worrying about her immediate future – yea or nay.
Love her or hate her, Mr. Mathews, but do not leave her to languish!
Sincerely yours
Katharina Mansfield
“It’s an amusing letter,” said Kimber. “She’s saying, ‘Look, I’ve sent you my manuscript. Are you going to do something with it or are you not? Let me know’, he may have sent her a rejection slip. Authors tend to bin them because they’re too painful to hang on to. She probably binned that, but he held on to the manuscript with these poems.”
The material was later put up for auction and subsequently bequeathed them to the Newberry library in 1999.
Although further research will be carried out, Kimber and the Newberry Library have no doubts the material is authentic. “It took a researcher [Kimber] with considerable knowledge of Mansfield’s published poems,” said Martha Briggs, the Newberry’s Lloyd Lewis curator of modern manuscripts, “and the patience to look carefully at what most people assumed was a manuscript copy”
“Although they’ve been catalogued,” said Kimber, “I don’t think any experienced Mansfield scholar has gone through them and realised what they had in their hands.”

The UK-based scholar thinks that these unpublished poems would have possibly earned Mansfield early recognition as a poetry writer.

Kimber said: “These poems show her early maturity as a poet. They could have been a lovely little book that could have enhanced her reputation and set her off on the road to being a poet, not just a short-story writer. But Elkin Mathews clearly didn’t like them, so they didn’t get published. As well as Mansfield being one of the most famous modernist short-story writers, I believe there is a case to be made for reassessing her as a poet.”
Despite her “hedonistic” behaviour of that period, kimber said “there are some really lovely poems, full of metaphors about children and love”.
“There’s a very touching poem about her beloved grandmother. I would say they are as good as any other poems she would go on to write,” she said.
In 1911, Mansfield went on to loosely fictionalise her adventures in Bavaria with her first published collection of short stories, In a German Pension.
Children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson, most famous for her Tracy Beaker series, is patron of the Katherine Mansfield Society and has loved Mansfield since she read The Doll’s House as a child, being engrossed by the “truth and sharpness” of the story.
“I admire Gerri’s diligent and patient scholarship, and it’s wonderful that she’s discovered a thick folder of Katherine’s unpublished poems. I can’t wait to read them all,” said the former children’s laureate. “The one extract I’ve seen looks fascinating.”
The poems will be available to the public in the Newberry Library and made available online. Next year, the final volume of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield – The Diaries and Miscellany – will publish the new poetry collection in full for the first time.
Mansfield died in 1923 aged 34 following a haemorrhage, in Fontainebleau, France, where she was also buried. Mansfield’s second husband, John Middleton Murry, went on to publish much of her work following her death.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Katherine Mansfield / Butterfly Laughter

Butterfly Laughter
By Katherine Mansfield

In the middle of our porridge plates
There was a blue butterfly painted
And each morning we tried who should reach the
butterfly first.
Then the Grandmother said: "Do not eat the poor
That made us laugh.
Always she said it and always it started us laughing.
It seemed such a sweet little joke.
I was certain that one fine morning
The butterfly would fly out of our plates,
Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world,
And perch on the Grandmother's lap. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Vinícius de Moraes / Sonnet to Katherine Mansfield

Sonnet to Katherine Mansfield
by Vinícius de Moraes
Translated by Regina Werneck

Vinícius de Moraes / Soneto a Katherine Mansfield (Pessoa)

Your perfume, beloved — in your letters
Reborn, blue...— it's your afflicted hands!
I remember them white, light, withered
Pending along abundant corollas.

I remember them, I go... in lands gone through
I inhale it again, here and there awakened
I stop; and so close I feel you, so close
As if in one we had two lives.

Weeping, so little pain! so much I wished
So much to see you again, so much!... and the spring
Already comes so close!... (will you never part

Spring, from dreams and from prayers!)
And in the imprisoned perfume in your letters
To the spring appears and evanesces.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Katherine Mansfield / To L.H.B.

Illustration by Elena Odriozola
To L.H.B.
By Katherine Mansfield

Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream.
We were at home again beside the stream
Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.
"Don't touch them: they are poisonous," I said.
But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam
Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head
And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.
"Don't you remember? We called them Dead Man's
I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar
Of the dark water tumbling on the shore.
Where--where is the path of my dream for my eager
By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands...
"These are my body. Sister, take and eat."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Katherine Mansfield / Malade

Two windows
by Triunfo Arciniegas

By Katherine Mansfield

The man in the room next to mine
has the same complaint as I.
When I wake in the night I hear him turning.
And then he coughs.
And I cough.
And after a silence I cough. And he coughs again.
This goes on for a long time.
Until I feel we are like two roosters
calling to each other at false dawn.
From far-away hidden farms.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Katherine Mansfield / When I was a Bird

When I was a Bird
By Katherine Mansfield

I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.
I made up a song that went on singing all by itself
And hadn't any words, but got sad at the end.
There were daisies in the grass under the tree.
I said just to try them:
"I'll bite off your heads and give them to my little
children to eat."
But they didn't believe I was a bird;
They stayed quite open.
The sky was like a blue nest with white feathers
And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm.
That's what my song said: though it hadn't any words.
Little Brother came up the patch, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.
Then when he was quite near I said: "Sweet, sweet!"
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: "Pooh, you're not a bird; I can see
your legs."
But the daisies didn't really matter,
And Little Brother didn't really matter;
I felt just like a bird.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Poet Sarah Howe named young writer of the year

Sarah Howe
Photo by Hayley Madden

Poet Sarah Howe named young writer of the year

Half-Chinese author’s debut collection Loop of Jade, exploring her dual heritage, praised by judges as ‘a work of astonishing originality’

Alison Flood
Friday 11 December 2015 12.38 GMT

Sarah Howe has been named young writer of the year for a “luminous” first collection of poetry exploring her dual English and Chinese heritage, Loop of Jade.
Howe, 32, was named winner of the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop young writer of the year award on Thursday night. The £5,000 prize, won in the past by Zadie Smith, Robert Macfarlane and Simon Armitage, is for the best piece of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish writer aged 35 or under.
This year, Howe was the only poet to be shortlisted, with her collection competing with Sunjeev Sahota’s Booker-shortlisted novel The Year of the Runaways, Ben Fergusson’s Betty Trask award-winning historical novel The Spring of Kasper Meier, and Sara Taylor’s Baileys-nominated The Shore.

Andrew Holgate, judge and Sunday Times literary editor, said the choice of Howe was “unanimous”. “From the strongest of shortlists, they selected Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe as a work of astonishing originality, depth and scope,” he said, praising her “luminous” work.
“She is a writer always conscious of language. These are poems that are sensuous, subtle, and full of immediacy and resonance,” added Holgate.
Howe, who was born in Hong Kong to an English father and a Chinese mother, told the Guardian that she was astonished to win. “The three other books were so extraordinary that I was just enjoying being shortlisted,” she said.
Loop of Jade is her first collection, and was previously shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize, and for the Forward prize for best first collection. She spent 10 years writing it, and it has “quite a strong narrative strand running through it”.
“A lot of the poems are telling the story of my mother, who was an abandoned baby in China, almost certainly given up because she was a girl. That story is entwined with the story of my own childhood in Hong Kong,” she said. “It’s told quite elliptically and in fragments – poetry is good at that, and that’s the way the story was told to me. I heard about my mother’s story in fragments.”
Her mother, she added, is pleased about the success of Loop of Jade. “I think she’s really proud; we have glancing conversations about it, where I ask a question and she answers a different question. But she tells everyone about it.”
With her win, following poet Andrew McMillan’s triumph in the Guardian first book award for his collection Physical, Howe said that “poetry seems to be having a bit of a moment in the national consciousness”.
For National Poetry Day this year, Howe’s poem Relativity was recorded by Stephen Hawking. “They say / a flash seen from on and off a hurtling train / will explain why time dilates like a perfect / afternoon,” he read, asking: “If we can think / this far, might not our eyes adjust to the dark?”
Novelist Sarah Waters, a former winner of the prize who joined Holgate along with Sunday Times chief fiction reviewer Peter Kemp on the judging panel, said that Howe was “a significant literary talent, a very special writer indeed”.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

José Martí / Two Poems

José Martí
Poster by T.A.

Two Poems

by José Martí

Waking Dream
I dream with my eyes
open and always, by day
and night, I dream.
And over the foam
of the wide and restless sea,
and through the spiraling
sands of the desert,
upon a mighty lion,
the monarch of my breast,
blithely astride
its docile neck,
always I see, floating,
a boy, who calls to me!

—From Ismaëlillo, 1882

Fragrant Arms
I know arms that are strong,
soft and fragrant;
I know when they encircle
my fragile neck,
my body, like a kissed
rose, opens,
and breathes in its own
languid perfume.
Rich in new blood
the temples throb;
and the red plumage of
internal birds begins to stir;
across skin weathered
by human winds
restless butterflies
beat their wings;
elixir of rose ignites
dead flesh!—
And I give up those rounded
fragrant arms,
for two small arms
that know how to tug at me,
and cling tightly
to my pale neck
and of mystic lilies
weave me a chain!
Away from me forever,
fragrant arms!
—From Ismaëlillo 1882.

Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen.
Esther Allen is currently editing and translating an anthology on José Martí, forthcoming from Penguin Classics.

One thing Cubans everywhere agree on is that José Martí (1853-1895) is their national religion. The central intellectual and political leader in Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain, Martí was also an influential poet. His first book, Ismaëlillo (Little Ishmael), was published in 1882 in New York City, where Martí spent most of his adult life, and consists entirely of passionate poems addressed to his absent three-year-old son, who was in Cuba, separated from his father by politics and exile, and by his mother’s will. The reader who comes to these 19th-century poems in the year 2000 may experience a vertiginous feeling that they were inspired by recent headlines. Earlier this year, as crowds were gathering daily in José Martí Park in Miami’s Little Havana to shout that Elián González had to stay in the United States, Fidel Castro hastily erected in a Havana waterfront square (now known as Plaza Elián) a massive socialist realist sculpture of José Martí, carrying a small boy in one arm.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Blanca Varela / Two Poems

Blanca Varela
Poster by T.A.

Two Poems

by Blanca Varela

The Things I Say are True
A star explodes in a small plaza and a bird loses its eyes
and falls. Around it men weep and watch the progress
of the new season. The river flows and bears in its cold
and muddled arms inscrutable matter that has
accumulated for years and years behind windows.
A horse dies and its soul flies up to the sky, smiling, its
large wooden teeth stained with dew. Later, among the
angels, it will grow black, silky wings to shoo the flies
Everything is perfect. To be locked in a small hotel
room, to be wounded, cast off, impotent, while outside
rain falls, sweet, unexpected.
What is it that’s happening, that throws itself down
from above and covers the leaves with blood and the
streets with golden rubble?
I know I am sick with a ponderous malady, brimming with a
bitter liquid, an inclement fever that whistles and
scares anyone who hears it. My friends left me, my
parrot has died, and I cannot keep people and animals
from fleeing at the sight of the black and terrible
splendor that my passage through the streets leaves
behind. I always have to eat lunch alone. It’s terrible.
—From This Port Exists, 1949-1959.

Family Secret
I dreamed of a dog
an eviscerated dog
singing its body was its red body whistling
I asked the other person
the one putting out the light on the carnivore
what’s happened
why are we in the dark
it’s a dream you’re alone woman
there is no other person
the light does not exist
you are the dog you are the flower that barks
gently sharpen your tongue
sweet black tongue with four paws
the skin of man burns in dreams
human skin combusts vanishes
only the dog’s red pulp is clean
true light inhabits the crust on its eyes
you are the dog
you are the eviscerated dog of every night
dream of yourself that’s enough
—From Light of Day, 1960-1963.

Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen.
Esther Allen is currently editing and translating an anthology on José Martí, forthcoming from Penguin Classics.

Blanca Várela, born in Lima, Peru in 1929, belongs to the generation of Peruvian poets that also includes Sebastián Salazar Bondy and Jorge Eduardo Eielson. Varela’s poems exhibit economy of language, Surrealist imagery and a meditative voice. Among her poetry collections are Ese puerto existe (This Port Exists, 1959), Luz de día (Light of Day, 1963), Valses y otras falsas confesiones (Waltzes and Other False Confessions, 1971), Ejercicios materiales(Material Exercises, 1993), El libro de barro (The Book of Mud, 1994), and Canto villano: Poesia reunida, 1949-1994 (Villain Song: Collected Poets).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Virgilio Piñera / Poem to be Said in the Midst of a Great Silence

Virgilio Piñera
Poster by T.A.
Poem to be Said 
in the Midst of a Great Silence
by Virgilio Piñera
Translated by Pablo Medina

Can it be they are going to kill?
Will they pierce the heart with a huge knife?
And with the sharpest scalpel empty the eyes?
And with the steeliest chisel break the skull?
And with the most hammer of hammers crush the bones?

Can it be that on the erotic table
--table of sex, table of love--
my love, you and I,
being startled one night
your heart spoke
when you were under my blood?
Can it be the same as it was
when it was an oath, and even more so,
your work, your word bled,
soaked by the soft perfume of kisses,
so as not to deny, to be one indivisible?
And can it be so blindly believed,
so blindly, that all the suns go dark forever
while the soul travels in darkness?
Can it be there never was a soul despite the waves of music we made?
Soul that never was though soul you might be for an instant?
Remember that instant when you were a soul and adored me,
and then your own monster came suddenly
to take you to the place where being you were?

Can it be that after you are no longer,
when not being is merely a mound of dried out kisses,
you will be by not being, instead being love?


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Virgilio Piñera / I See It

Virgilio Piñera
Poster by T.A.
I See It
by Virgilio Piñera
Translated by Pablo Medina

Better death raise
the crown of your life
to weigh it,
and on the forehead where the moon hides its reflection
death will overcome its own severity with splendor.

You are naked,
as if the hourless days slid down your body,
as if a fleeting animal raced
between rest and memory.

Day now begins its ascent
and you end up in the sudden beak of inertia.
You call me as if the impregnable shrouds
of destruction dropped on my ear one by one.

And I too label you destroyed,
I reach your outskirts,
I set fire to you with the suns of my condolence,
I place you in a box of laments,
your fear reaches me and I wreck the air
with the vibrations of its impediment.
I see you in the air like a dead star
shattering into cold moons,
I see you with your shoes and your perfection.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Virgilio Piñera / Elegy and Such

Virgilio Piñera
Poster by T.A.

Elegy and Such
by Virgilio Piñera
Translated by Pablo Medina

I invite the word
walking its barren bark among the dogs.
Everything is sad.
If it crowns forehead and breasts with shining leaves
a cold smile will blossom on the moon.
Everything is sad.
Later the sad dogs will eat the leaves
and bark out words with glistening sounds.
Everything is sad.
A dog invites the hyacinths by the river.
Everything is sad.
With loony words, with doggerel arrows,
with tiny toothy leaves
the hyacinths wound the mute damsels.
Everything is sad.
The black grass grows with a quiet hum,
but shiny edges caress the rhythm.
Everything is sad.
Behind the words the serpents laugh,
deaf earth allows no sound.
Everything is sad.

A heavenly bird barks in the sky
to scare death away.
The bird discovers it with with the flowers of night
and seduces it with words of a dog
and buries it with a cupful of earth.
Everything is sad.
I invite the earthbound word
that cuts through life and mirrors
and splits the echo of its image.
Everything is sad.
A play of words and barks.

Everything is sad.
A javelin whooshes through the speeding wind
in virile variations.
Half a cup of earth silenced the music.

Everything is sad.
Then the earth drank itself.
Everything is sad.
And when the time for death arrives
place me before a mirror where I may see myself.
Everything is sad.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Collected French Translations / Poetry by John Ashbery / Review

Collected French Translations: Poetry by John Ashbery – review

Visionary lunacy and peculiar choices tell us much about the Pulitzer prize-winning poet

Patrick McGuinness
Saturday 15 November 2014 11.00 GMT

n a 1956 letter to Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery wrote: “I hate all modern French poetry, except for Raymond Roussel”, specifying: “I do like my own wildly inaccurate translations of some of the 20th-century ones, but not the originals”. The editors of this book rather solemnly gloss this as Ashbery musing on “his own hard work”, and his “difficulties in building a canon for his own new poetic journeys”. They may be right, but the comment is also funny and provocative, taking a dandy-esque line on the tired debates (tired even then and comprehensively exhausted now) about accuracy and fidelity in translation.

This book (along with its sibling, Ashbery’s Collected French Translations: Prose) is mostly non-canonical in focus. Though several poets may be familiar – Reverdy, Breton, Supervielle, Eluard – others, such as Daumal, Ganzo, Lubin, Blanchard, Roche, will not. The highlights include a few poems by the Swiss boxer-poet Arthur Cravan and the sequence of prose poems, from The Dice Cornet, by the the Jewish-Breton Max Jacob, who died on his way to a concentration camp in 1944. The contemporary with whom Ashbery feels most kinship is his friend and former companion, Pierre Martory, whose volume The Landscapist he translated in 2008. Where Ashbery often reads like a French poet writing in English, Martory, barely known even in France, has the air of an American poet writing in French. His poem “The Landscape is Behind the Door” not only gives us one of the best lines in this book – “I draw you like a salary” – but reads like a New York School poem that just happens to use French words:
The landscape is behind the door. 

The person is there … New York is full 

Of similar places where a world, 

A large cloud, is being built. Only 
The heads stay put. You pay 
Before arriving, a long time before 
Opening your mouth. There are things 
Near us whose sides are all green.

Rimbaud is Ashbery’s guiding figure, prince of the counter-canon as well as the canon, a poet who occupies the centre through sheer force of vision while managing to fill the margins for pretty much the same reason. Ashbery’s version of Illuminations appeared in 2011 with a splendidly ardent introduction: “If we are absolutely modern – and we are – it’s because Rimbaud commanded us to be.” As for the 19th century, there is only one Baudelaire poem here, no Verlaine, no Gautier and none of the Symbolists, save Mallarmé. It’s such a peculiar choice that even the French don’t have a name for the genre it falls into: a series of English nursery rhymes followed by Mallarmé’s own prose translations, re‑Englished by Ashbery with faithful, visionary lunacy, the kind of meaning-promising meaninglessness that makes nursery rhymes so compelling. “Fabulous and fabulously unreadable,” Ashbery concludes, with relish.
Ashbery is a poet of margin-quarrying, tributary-chasing curiosity, but as a translator he is far more accurate than his throwaway comments suggest. It’s as if his very exactness guaranteed his translations their unfamiliarity. This chimes with something in Ashbery’s own poems, which have what he calls, in Rimbaud, a “crystalline jumble”, and where personal pronouns (the I’s and You’s and We’s) on which we hang interpretation, are porous, interchangeable things. Ashbery’s poems track the minutiae of a consciousness that is rangy and unbounded; that, as he writes in A Wave (1984), “belongs where it is going / Not where it is”.
This book begins with versions dating from the 1970s of Jean-Baptiste Chassignet (c1571-1635). Ashbery had by then published, notably, The Tennis Court OathRivers and Mountains and the Pulitzer prize-winning Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. This is the period of what he called “the French John Ashbery”, “a temporary phase of troubling the waters so as to be able to fish in them later”. It is a neat image, the poet-translator as fisherman casting his line for a Gallic catch:
Seat yourself on the edge of a wavy 


You’ll see it flow in a perpetual course, 

And wave upon wave rolling in 
thousands and thousands of turns 
Release among the meadows its 
damp career. 

But you’ll see nothing of the first wave 
Which flowed once, water changes 
every day, 
Every day it passes, and we still name it 
Same river, and same water, in the 
same way.
If Chassignet sounds like Ashbery, it’s not because Ashbery takes liberties, but because he sticks to the original’s unnerving mattness of diction and resists the temptation to freshen up the cliche of Time-as-flowing-river. The result is a sequence of haunting, spiritual and oddly austere poems that seem at once close and far away.

There are many waves in Ashbery, and, more generally, as in Rimbaud, a lot of water. Water is Ashbery’s element; as a poet, he deploys a kind of  liquid consciousness, sometimes slack, sometimes in spate, sometimes a flood and sometimes just a leak, that carries its flotsam of disparate feelings, observations, statements and states of  mind, with apparent indifference to their size, shape and value. “Your form was that of a wave, only more truthful, more circumspect”, writes Jules Supervielle in Ashbery’s version of “To Lautréamont”. “You take the form of a wave so people think it’s all the same to you.” Making pronouns fluid rather than fixed also enables Ashbery to de-hierachise the poem’s different elements, so that an intimation of mortality reaches the reader on the same level, on the same wave, as noticing a fire hydrant or a hot-dog stall. For some critics this just leads to a tricksy poetry of surfaces; for others, it is a way of elegantly rendering the wavy ways we perceive a wavy world.
With many poems in the New York School lineage, the obscure and disjunctive energies of French surrealism become diluted into a sort of decaffeinated whimsy. The effect is like watching André Breton’s Nadja filmed by the makers of Ally McBeal. While Ashbery is not responsible for this, his poems, like Dylan Thomas’s, look easy and temptingly imitable. One result of reading his translations is to realise just how deep-rooted the superficiality of his poetry is.
 Patrick McGuinness’s The Last Hundred Days is published by Seren.