Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mario Benedetti / Don't Save Yourself

Don't Save Yourself

by Mario Benedetti

Don't stay motionless

by the side of the road, don't suspend joy

or love halfheartedly don't save yourself now or ever. don't save yourself. don't fill yourself
with calm. don't reserve a still corner in this world don't let your eyelids droop heavy like judgements don't forsake your lips don't go to sleep

without heavy eyes, don't consider yourself bloodless

Don't judge yourself

without time. But if, despite it all, you can't help it and you suspend joy and you love halfheartedly and you save yourself, and you become calm, reserve a still corner in the world let your eyelids droop heavy as judgements and remain without lips and sleep without cause, imagine yourself bloodless, judge yourself in haste and Stay motionless by the side of the road and you save yourself

then Do not stay with me.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Saturday Poem / With Joe on Silver Street

Joe Orton

The Saturday Poem: With Joe on Silver Street

by Helen Tookey

Tuesday 1 August 1967Saturday 1 February 2014 
Said goodbye to Kenneth this morning. He seemed odd. On the spur of the moment I asked if he wanted to come home to Leicester with me. He looked surprised and said, 'No.'
– from the diary of Joe Orton
In scratty fake-fur jackets, jaunty caps
and baseball boots we saunter Silver Street,
skiving our ls: it's Siwver Street to slack-
mouthed Midlanders like us, who can't be arsed
with alveolar laterals. Of course,
RADA and elocution did the trick,
but still you keep a hint of Saffron Lane –
it charms the pants off Peggy and the rest,
just like the coat: 'Cheap clothes suit me,' you smirked,
'It's cos I'm from the gutter'; and it works,
they're all down on their knees, lapping it up.
Sometimes I think I hate you, Joe: I can
be cruel, but cruelty is something pure
for you, a fire that kills and makes things clean
and true; and I know anger, but the rage
that shoots your star high through the London nights
is something I'm afraid to face. You've travelled
far beyond me, Joe, and you don't plan
on coming back, I know; but here we are
on Silver Street, and look, in black and white,
that little word you never had the time
to strike out from those last blind lines, Joe: home.
 From Missel-Child (Carcanet, £9.95). 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Five Poets Reflect on the Life and Work of Yusef Komunyakaa


Five Poets Reflect on the Life and Work of Yusef Komunyakaa

At a panel at this year’s PEN America World Voices Festival, five poets discuss the pain and self-actualization in the poems of Komunyakaa.

Every year PEN America presents its World Voices Festival, a literary festival in New York City featuring at least 200 writers and artists from over fifty countries in conversation about some of the most important literary, cultural, and political topics of our age. This year the event spanned six days, from May 6th to May 12th, and Guernica writers were able to attend four of the events. These are their dispatches from the festival.

On May 11th, at the PEN America World Voices Panel panel “Love in the Time of War: A Celebration of Yusef Komunyakaa,” poet Toi Derricotte asked a packed audience at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House in Greenwich Village to take some time to think about spaces where we had reimagined ourselves. After a moment, she asked everyone to share that space out loud, whether to the room or a neighbor. The collective response was a shy, half-whispered clamor of times and placeschurches, libraries, organizations like Brooklyn’s Cave Canemthat rose to a swell of laughter in which no single answer took priority. “Man, that is so cool!” Derricotte exclaimed. “Wow, I love that!”

Derricotte was joined by fellow poets Maurice Emerson Decaul (who also moderated), Tyehimba Jess, Kevin Young, and Javier Zamora to celebrate Yusef Komunyakaa, a writer who has spent much of his decades-long career considering how we imagine and reimagine ourselveswhether it happens through sublime self-actualization or because of painful coercion. Young, the current poetry editor at The New Yorker, discussed Komunyakaa’s influence on his own Black Maria, a collection of film noir poems featuring a bruised and Komunyakaa-esque narrator (“All’s I got left [is] one lousy alias: S.O.S. Malone. My real name’s A.K.A. Jones. Leastwise, that’s what I’ve been told.”) When he read Komunyakaa’s “Unnatural State of the Unicorn,” which considers the contradictions between the poet’s artistic success and his experiences with racism and as a veteran, Young interrupted himself to repeat two lines“I’ve done it all / to be known as myselfhis voice breathless and shaking.

The event centered heavily on Komunyakaa’s service in Vietnam and the themes of domestic and foreign conflict that he returns to across several collections, particularly Dien Cai Dau and Neon Vernacular. “He so vividly introduces a new generation to the complexities and the weight of war,” Jess said, reflecting on how fewer and fewer of his students can remember a time when the US was not engaged in conflict or occupation. “I can’t imagine talking about the Vietnam War without his work.” When Zamora introduced “Facing It,” Komunyakaa’s famous account of visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, some audience members gasped softly  in recognition and anticipation.

Derricotte read “Camouflaging the Chimera,” an account of a military ambush written entirely in the first-person plural, and urged the audience to pay careful attention to the use of “we.” “Perhaps the speaker in the poem…is in denial, out of touch with his sense of personal responsibility,” she said. “Or perhaps the ‘we’ in the poem becomes all of us. None of us can claim innocence for what is being done in the world” (Young added that the “we” is “generous and Whitmanesque”). After drawing attention to Komunyakaa’s ambivalence as a black soldier and his other writings on American white supremacy generally, Derricotte said of her own childhood, “We always knew we were in a conflict. I was aware all the time that I was in a situation that might detonate. It was a physical way you held your body, the way your brain grew…That internal understanding of living in conflict all the time is something that is an internal understanding of war.”

But throughout the event, Decaul and the other guests took care to call special attention to moments of compassion and tenderness that always appear alongside the suffering and grief in Komunyakaa’s work. “We Never Know,” from Neon Vernacularwhich was read twice, first by Jess and later again by Decaulopens with a man gunned down, “danc[ing] with tall grass / for a moment, like he was swaying / with a woman.” When the poem’s narrator approaches the body, he confesses, “There’s no other way / to say this: I fell in love” before turning the corpse onto its back “so he wouldn’t be / kissing the ground.” Young also read “Ode to the Maggot,” which concludes: “Little / Master of earth, no one gets to heaven / Without going through you first.”

Zamora, a former student of Komunyakaa’s, mentioned often that the poet was a uniquely compassionate mentor, “generous to students and to poetry.” Discussing one of his own poems, in which he eulogizes the man who protected him during a border crossing that turned violent upon the arrival of US Border Patrol, Zamora said, “He made me feel comfortable and secure enough to share very personal stuff. That is very hard to do as a teacher, when you are dealing with a student who has gone through trauma. But I already knew going into the room that I could do that, because of what he has produced.”


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Diana Krall / Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Diana Krall 
 Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

What I've gotta do to make you love me
What I've gotta do to make you care
What do I do when lightening strikes me
And I wake up and find that you are not there

What do I do to make you want me
What I've gotta do to be heard
what do I say when it's all over
And sorry seems to be the hardest word

It's sad, so sad
It's a sad sad situation
And it's getting more and more absurd
It's sad, so sad
Why can't we talk it over
Oh, it seems to me
Sorry seems to be the hardest word

What do I do to make you love me
What I've gotta do to be heard
What do I do when lightening strikes me
What've I gotta do
What've I gotta do?
When sorry seems to be the hardest word


Monday, May 6, 2019

Bill Coyle / Respiratory

Paul Klee


On the stone patio
koi mill in their pond.
What do kept goldfish know
of anything beyond?
They know in any case
that certain shadows cast
upon the water’s face
have fed them in the past,
so that when anyone
leans over the low wall
they rush to him as one
to see what crumbs might fall.
Today is a good day
to stay indoors and warm,
the sky, granite and gray,
hung with its forecast storm.
When rain and leaves flash by
your window they appear
to my abstracted eye
as snow, already here.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Geoffrey Brock / One morning

One morning

The boy is wide awake:
he climbs into our bed
and clambers toward my head,
wielding a yellow rake.
Combing my hair, the boy
giggles with every stroke.
His is a simple joke:
he knows his plastic toy
is not a comb, my hair
is not disheveled sand,
and yet his furrowed mind
has seen a likeness there—
delight grows from small seeds.
And for now I won’t worry
what else might, as we hurry
toward what the future breeds.