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Calvino's letters

The letters of Italo Calvino? Surely not, we might think, given this writer’s famous guardedness and privacy, his distrust of the biographical, of the cult of the individual writer as opposed to the collective enterprise. As he says in a 1968 letter to a correspondent suggesting a monograph: “I’m afraid I don’t think I really have a life on which something can be written. All I have is a series of works that form part of a general context of literary works . . .”. Asked in another letter whether he thinks that writers should be interviewed, he answers unhesitatingly: “No, I believe that there must be no interview.” To focus on the physical being who happened to be the writer would be “the death knell for literature as a relationship between a written text and its reader”.

The rest of the review is on the Irish Times site

Astonished at everything

Homesick for the Earth, poems by Jules Supervielle with versions by Moniza Alvi, Bloodaxe, 112 pp, £9.95, ISBN: 978-1852249205

Jules Supervielle is in heaven; or, at least, in the heavens, sprawled in the depths of space, alone with his bones, when out of the blue a familiar street appears with all its earthly accoutrements:

Boulevard Lannes, que fais-tu si haut dans l’espace
Et les tombereaux que tirent des percherons l’un derrière l’autre,
Les naseaux dans l’éternité
Et la queue balayant l’aurore?
(“47 Boulevard Lannes”)

Boulevard Lannes, what are you doing so high up in space
with your horse-drawn dustcarts,
nostrils in eternity,
tails brushing against the dawn?
(Translated by Moniza Alvi)

The vast spaces, the realisation of the earthly, the sense of a world apprehended through a prism of nostalgia, the loose but restless prosody are all typical. Those spaces are often lonely, occupied by a solitary consciousness human or divine. God considers his creation from the vastness of a gr…

The pleasure of small streets

The drawings show, in great detail, the junction of Goldsmith Street and Geraldine Street. They are architectural drawings, designed to pull us in to observe the specific details of the chosen scene. In the first we see a recessed doorway with a generous fanlight and the brickwork of the narrow porch ranged fan-like on the arch. There is a narrow garden outside and spiked, wrought-iron railings in front. Across the junction a row of similar red-bricked houses continues, a terrace made up of symmetrical pairs of houses, each with its elaborate door and single large front window. The houses are low, with a double pitched roof like two pleats of an accordion, each with its own chimney stack. The spiked railings continue around the end terrace, enclosing an area no more than a step wide. If you jumped up in the air a little you could see over the roof, or at least it feels like that. The tower of St Joseph’s Church on Berkeley Road with its four turrets completes the view of the terrace.…

A new Cavafy

'It was Cavafy's habit to set down a few lines on a sheet of paper and then place the sheet in an envelope for future inspection. He stored these envelopes in his cluttered apartment, opening them when he felt capable of bringing the half-poems they contained to a satisfactory end. This was his lifelong method. Whenever a poem was finished, he showed it to a discerning friend, not an editor or a publisher. What seems so spontaneous, on the page is the result of years of rewriting and rethinking.'
– Paul Bailey in today's Guardian on a new translation of Cavafy

National Gallery reading

Am reading tomorrow (29 May) at 1.05 pm in the Lecture Room of the National Gallery as part of a series of readings organised by Poetry Ireland and the Gallery. The series marks the Irish presidency of the EU which will be an excuse to include a lot of translations. Here's the latest, this time a poem I couldn't resist by André Frénaud (1907-1993).


House for sale
(André Frénaud)

So many have lived here, who loved
to love, to wake, dust, sweep the floor.
The moon’s in the well and can’t be seen,
the previous owners have disappeared,
taking nothing with them.
The ivy swells in yesterday’s sun,
the coffee stains and soot are staying put.
I fasten myself to mouldy dreams
and embrace the grime of others' souls,
that mix of lace and plans gone wrong.
Concierge of failure, I’ll buy the dump –
if it poisons me so be it, but never fear:
open the windows, put the sign on the lawn,
someone else will come in, sniff the air, begin again.

Here's the original:


Maison à vendre

Tant de …

From the Fortress of Upper Bergamo

Had a go at this today. You can find the original, Dalla rocca di Bergamo alta, here
From the Fortress of Upper Bergamo  (Salvatore Quasimodo)
You heard the cock crowing from the other side of the walls, beyond the towers chilled with a light alien to you – lightning bolt, primal cry, the murmuring of voices from the cells and the call of the bird patrolling the dawn. In a circle of briefest sun you uttered no words for yourself. Talismans of a new born world, lost in malignant smoke, the antelope and the heron held their tongues. The February moon passed over  a remembered earth, lit in its own silence.  And you too move among the cypresses of the fortress without a sound, where anger founders on the green of the young dead and pity once distant is almost joy.
(Giorno dopo giorno, 1947)

The Monster's Breast: Journeying Through Dublin

One by one they dissolve. Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett is tugged back to Rotterdam; off go the O’Casey, the Talbot Memorial, the Loopline, Butt Bridge, O’Connell Bridge, The Ha’penny Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Grattan Bridge, O’Donovan Rossa Bridge, Fr Mathew Bridge, the first of them all, great bridge, bridge of the Osmen, Dublin bridge; then Mellows Bridge, the slippery James Joyce Bridge, not to be crossed on a wet day, also by Calatrava, through whose steel wings you can see the house of ‘The Dead’, 15 Usher’s Island; the blue bridge that came from St Helen’s Foundry in Lancashire, Frank Sherwin Bridge, Heuston Bridge and so on down past Chapelizod to Lucan Bridge. The quay walls have melted away, the reclaimed land to the east has emptied itself back, and the river, the Ruirthech, ro-ritheach, the strong-running, flexes its muscles and rushes eastward to the nearer sea. And now that the bridges are gone, there is the serious problem of getting across.
Read More on Graph Magazin…

The Lost Place: Reading Yves Bonnefoy's 'La Maison Natale'

What are we concerned with? What are we really attached to? Are we entitled to reject the contamination of the impermanent and to withdraw into the stronghold of speech, like the king in Poe’s tale, far from the plague-stricken land? Or did we love the lost object for its own sake, and do we want at all costs to recover it? (Bonnefoy, The act and the place of poetry. 102) There is something interesting and powerful about an orchestrated series of poems – the kind of sequence or grouping that sets up conversations between the constituent parts, and where a common stock of images and verbal effects complement and reinforce each other. The frame of a sequence is really a loose kind of house, a dramatic space and a series of interconnected rooms, and those connections are important. It means the different parts can speak to each other and it also means there can be an accumulation of image and mood over the duration of the series.

For some poets, this working by accumulation and accret…

Long, longer, longish

With thanks to Poetry Ireland Review (the poem appears in issue 109, edited by John F. Deane). The issue is partly devoted to long, longer and longish poems, which tend not to get much room in journals as a rule. Galway Kinnell, Harry Clifton, James Harpur, Patricia McCarthy and Robert Minhinnick also contribute longer pieces, and there's an interview with Bernard O'Donoghue.



Housed unhoused


In the dream of perfect ownership
light drenches the wood, falling
through windows long looked through.
The wine and the oil sleep in the store
and small gods have come to rest
in hearth and threshold, tile and countertop,
in doors, in handles smooth from long use.
They inhabit radios, tumbling clothes,
the silence of the winter yard, and when we’re here
they stream through us so every breath
is altar and core. Robed with home we go,
from room to room moving with grace,
lords of our little universe.

§

Who could forget the poet’s house, the one he made
when he ran out of money and time
and …

Dennis O'Driscoll

I was asked to talk about Dennis O'Driscoll in a tribute to him at the Barrow River Arts Festival last Sunday. His brother, Declan, read from his autobiographical essay on his home town, Thurles, and Marcella Riordan read a selection of his poems.



It's a strange experience to be here speaking about Dennis because I can still hardly fathom the fact that he's no longer with us. I still expect to bump into him, to carry on the conversation with him – the one ongoing conversation about poetry that we'd been having on and off for thirty odd years. It seems like a moment since we stood and chatted in Hodges Figgis in Dublin. He was buying presents, concentrating hard and looking a little lost in the non-poetry section of the shop, on his way to a poetry launch. He'd been to visit some of his beloved art galleries in the afternoon. Bookshop, galleries, poetry launch: a typical urban routine. The things that mattered. What did we talk about? Poetry, of course. We never re…

Hölderlin: Hälfte des Lebens

Another Hölderlin version  . . .There are many versions of this poem in English, but my favourite translation is Kathleen Jamie's Scots version.



Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.


Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Midlife

Yellow with pears
Heavy with wild roses
The land hangs in the lake
Magnificent swans
Drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
In the holy sober water

Where will I find
Flowers this winter
And where will I find
The sunshine and shade
of the earth? Speechless and cold
The walls stand, and the weathercocks
Rattle in the wind

In lovely blue

'In lieblicher Bläue…’

(After Hölderlin)

In lovely blue
the steeple flowers
the swallows cry around it
and pouring
                heartstopping blue

The metal roof
glints in the sun
and the weathercock
struts and crows in his
high silence

As in a still life
everything holds its shape
every edge
sharpens in the light

A man comes down the steps
under the clock
wearing the hour
like a sculpted coat
and the windows of the bell tower
are like gates on miracles
so close still
to the forest, and pure

The mind swings on difference
and is made serious
so simple all of this, so sacred
we would have to be saints
to describe it
or know such kindliness
to draw near


Is God unknown
or clear as the sky?
He must be clear
and this our measure
to live with our clutter
still lightly, like poets
on the earth
 doch dichterisch
           wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde


The dark night
templed with stars
after all
 if I can say it like this the
no purer than man
made in His image


Is there a measure on earth?
There’s none.
For never the creator res…