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Continual Visit

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From Drop BoxSomehow a wilderness grows. The grasses
are full of small animals, the nights so absolute
you could haul yourself through blackness to the stars
and stream down like a stray god on the meadow.

The lake shifts and startles, a vixen cries from her lair.
The cottage veers and shakes and makes
like a mad thing for the trees. If there is a dog
he is barking now, shocked head pummelling air.

If there are foxes they are running, if the dead
have spilled from their fields they are here now
running headlong into the night. They are lost
and their gods with them, running down the narrow
lanes, leaping into hedgerows and ditches, mingling
with ash branches, rushes, the sleeping machines
   in their sheds.

Sequence continues in The Manchester Review

Click here for the rest of the issue

Lines from a Victorian Photographer

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(Paul Martin, Yarmouth, 1892)

She lies in the sand as if she’d risen from it,
as if the sand had dreamed her dress
and elaborated
her pinned up hair, her sculpted hat.

He leans over her
dark-suited, composed
having stepped outside his century
as if for a moment and travelled down

still bowler-hatted and immaculately shod,
his umbrella still perfectly rolled
and lying now beside her
to await the outcome.

[]

He has conjured her maybe
though not so much as she has taken him.
The sand is in every fold of her dress,
she lies in the sand, the sand lies in her

and she is smiling: there is nothing of him
she doesn’t comprehend, the brim of his hat
knows more than he does
and travels farther.

[]

Around them a world moves,
someone else’s,
a procession of dark dresses escorting children,
boats conquering the foreshore,

a solitary chair
that has somehow wandered out
to take the air and suitably refreshed will return
to its great affairs.

[]

Now they have fallen deeper,
they have disappeared i…

Into the Deep Street

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Into the Deep Street: Seven Modern French Poets 1938-2008. Edited and translated by Jennie Feldman and Stephen Romer. Anvil, 2009, 335 pp. 17.80 euro

with thanks to Poetry Ireland Review 101, where this piece first appeared.
How do you go about presenting a selection of French poets to an English-language readership? One method might be to try for a generous inclusivity, hospitable to the full range of what is on offer. Another might be to isolate a trend, a set of affinities between poets, and represent that. This anthology takes the second approach, bringing together Jean Follain, Henri Thomas, Philippe Jaccottet, Jacques Réda, Paul de Roux, Guy Goffette, and Gilles Ortlieb. The idea is that this is the line of Follain, a loose notion of elective affinity rather than a school or tradition. Follain’s brief, intense poems are a fixed point around which many of the poems here constellate themselves. The constituent parts of a Follain poem are concrete, material but they serve very …

Weeds in the Forum

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Have been torturing myself on the rack of prose, so this poem by José Emilio Pacheco seemed particularly apt. Taken from Inside Out, Selected Poetry and Translations by Alastair Reid (Polygon, 2008)


Roman conversation

In Rome that poet told me:
You cannot imagine how it saddens me to see you
writing ephemeral prose in magazines.

There are weeds in the Forum. The wind
anoints the pollen with dust.

Under the great marble sun, Rome changes
from ocher to yellow,
to sepia, to bronze.

Everywhere something is breaking down.
Our times are cracking.
It is summer
and you cannot walk through Rome.
So much grandeur enslaved. Chariots
charge against both men and cities.

Companies and phalanxes and legions,
missiles or coffins,
scrap iron,
ruins which will be ruins.

Grasses grow,
fortuitous seeds in the marble.
And garbage in the unremembering streets:
tin cans, paper, scrap.
The consumer's cycle: affluence
is measured by its garbage.

It is hot. We keep on walking.
I have no wish to answer
or t…

Why translation matters

Michael Hofmann argues for the importance of translation, reviewing Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman

Thanks to Jorge Fondebrider for sending the link to Richard Howard's New York Times review of the same book

Dead Poets' Society

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Jorge Luis Borges

To a minor poet of the anthology

Where are the days
that were yours on earth, that mingled
joy and sorrow and were the universe for you?

The river of years
has lost them; you’re a word in an index.

The gods gave others immortal fame:
of you, dark friend, all we know
is that one evening you heard the nightingale.

Among the asphodels of the underworld
your proud shade
might think the gods harsh.

But the days are a tangle of paltry needs
and is there a blessing richer than the ash
of which oblivion’s made?

For others the gods kindled
the relentless light of fame, which pokes in every crevice
and finds out every flaw,
fame which ends up shrivelling
the rose it treasures.

They were kinder to you, brother:
in the ecstasy of a dusk which will never darken
you listen still to Theocritus’s nightingale.


'The river of years' is a bit of a shortcut, translation by omission. The original is 'El río numerable de los años' but I couldn't think what to do with &…

Ecclesiastes

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by Tymoteusz Karpowicz

there is a time for opening the eye and closing the bed
time for donning a shirt and shedding sleep
time for drowsy soap and half-awaked skin
time for the hair-brush and for sparks in the hair
time for trouser legs time for shoe-laces for buttons
for laddered stockings for the slipper’s blindness
time for the fork and for the knife times for sausages and boiled eggs
time for the tram time for the conductress time for the policeman
time for good morning and time for goodbye
time for carrots peas and parsley
for tomato soup and shepherd’s pie
time for trussing chicken and releasing forbidden speeds of thought
time for a cinema ticket or a ticket to nowhere
to a river perhaps perhaps perhaps to a cloud
there is finally a time of closed eyelids and the open bed
time for the past present and future
praesans historicum and pluaquamperfectum
time perfect and imperfect
time from wall to wall

published in The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry
Edited by Ilya Kaminsk…

Two more by Follain

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Two poems by Jean Follain

Signs for Travellers

Travellers from the great spaces
when you see a girl
twisting in sumptuous hands
the black vastness of her hair
and when moreover
you see
near a dark baker’s
a horse lying near death
by these signs you will know
that you have come among men.

(Translated by W.S. Merwin, from Transparence of the World: Jean Follain, Copper Canyon Press, 2003)

The Red Apple


Tintoretto painted his dead daughter
carriages were moving in the distance
the painter died in turn
today long rails
girdle the earth
and carve it up
the Renaissance resists
in the chiaroscuro of museums
voices break
often even the silence
seems exhausted
but the red apple remains.

(Translated by Stephen Romer in Into the Deep Street, Seven Modern French Poets 1938-2008, Edited and translated by Stephen Romer and Jennie Feldman, Anvil Press, 2009)

Dazzling nails

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A free-ish version of Follain's 'Quincaillerie'.


Hardware Store

after Jean Follain

In a country hardware store
men come to buy
screwdrivers and wrenches
their hair is grey their hair is red
neatly flattened or flying wild.
A bluish air fills the serious spaces,
into its iron tang women set loose
the scent
of themselves.
Just to touch the spotless bolts and drills
is to feel the irresistible
weight of the world.

The hardware store floats towards the stars
selling, until no-one wants for them,
nail after dazzling nail.