Friday, April 17, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "What Must Be Said" by Gunter Grass


Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people--
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation--
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no inspection is available?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force--the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of "anti-Semitism" is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
Its very own crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the
existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But as a fear wishes to be conclusive,
I say what must be said.

Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound

And wish to stay bound,
From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we--as Germans burdened enough--
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger
To renounce violence and
Likewise insist
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.

by Gunter Grass

I'm posting this because Gunter Grass died a few days ago on April 13, 2015, in Lubeck, Germany.

I am neither pro or con what he is saying in this poem, but like Voltaire,

I'll defend to the death Gunter Grass's right to say it.


I spent 8 months living and working in Israel in 1987-1988 and, although I'm not Jewish, I sympathise and empathise with their situation. It is hard to lead a so-called normal life when you are constantly alert for attack and surrounded by bitter enemies at every border.

This is a good article written by Heather Horn in The Atlantic shortly after publication of this poem:

 
As Horn says of the poem and her translation, "it is not exactly the prettiest prose in its original German, and the English doesn't read much better."




Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Green Gecko Dreaming (Redux)


I was here before you and after
the Big Heat
I will be here after you.
While you have lived,
I have struggled to live.
Some of you have been my guardians,
some have been my enemies,
but your ferocious machines will fall silent
and the insects will return.
Even my enemies will ride the sky again
as the smudges of your smoke
are wiped clear to blue.
Your footprints will wash away
and your domination become a folk tale,
ghost stories told to frighten our children.
We have kept the faith
and, through the ages,
our stories have kept our hopes alive.

In our Dreaming,
you vanish
and Gondwana is once more.

To celebrate the release of the Paperback Edition, I hope you'll forgive me if I run the title poem again.


The cover is a partial representation, turned 90 degrees, of a chalk drawing that my oldest son, Thomas, drew when he was eleven years old.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Undertaking" by Louise Gluck



The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime.
There you are - cased in clean bark you drift
through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton.
You are free. The river films with lilies,
shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm. And now
all fear gives way: the light
looks after you, you feel the waves' goodwill
as arms widen over the water; Love

the key is turned. Extend yourself -
it is the Nile, the sun is shining,
everywhere you turn is luck.

by Louise Gluck

This is a beautiful poem, rich in its simplicity and yet awash with imagery of light and water. It can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I imagine it as the final journey, like an ancient Egyptian, the "you" is floated off down the Nile, with all the troubles of life washed away in the embrace of a peaceful death.

I love that image: "The river films with lilies" and how the "you" of the poem feels "the waves' goodwill". Beautifully economic and, paradoxically, expansive.



For more information about poet, Louise Gluck, see:


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Dormouse and the Doctor" by A. A. Milne



There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)

A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
"Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just say 'Ninety-nine', while I look at your chest...
Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?"

 The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he'd said "Ninety-nine") that he'd tried and he'd tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:
"What the patient requires is a change," and he went
To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent.

The Dormouse lay there, and he gazed at the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue),
And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant,
He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent.
"Now these," he remarked, "give a much better view
Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

They took out their spades and they dug up the bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"And now," said the Doctor, "we'll soon have you right."

The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh:
"I suppose all these people know better than I.
It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

The Doctor came round and examined his chest,
And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest.
"How very effective," he said, as he shook
The thermometer, "all these chrysanthemums look!"

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"How lovely," he thought, "to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)."

The Doctor said, "Tut! It's another attack!"
And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back,
And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car,
And murmured, "How sweet your chrysanthemums are!"

The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes,
And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise:
"I'll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!"

The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands,
And saying, "There's nobody quite understands
These cases as I do! The cure has begun!
How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!"

The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white.
And all that he felt at the back of his head
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said)
If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed,
You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies
Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes.



by A. A. Milne


I thought it was time for something delightful and child-like. A nice poem to read aloud to young children if they are home sick from school.





For more about the life of A.A. Milne, see:


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Happiness" by Raymond Carver


So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

by Raymond Carver

I'm a big Carver fan, both of his poems and his short stories. He had a really unique knack of getting right to the heart of things, simply, directly and achingly beautifully. This poem captures the fleeting and ephemeral nature of happiness perfectly I think.


For more information on Raymond Carver, see:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/raymond-carver


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Anseo" by Paul Muldoon


When the Master was calling the roll
At the primary school in Collegelands,
You were meant to call back Anseo
And raise your hand
As your name occurred.
Anseo, meaning here, here and now,
All present and correct,
Was the first word of Irish I spoke.
The last name on the ledger
Belonged to Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
And was followed, as often as not,
By silence, knowing looks,
A nod and a wink, the Master's droll
'And where's our little Ward-of-court?'

I remember the first time he came back
The Master had sent him out
Along the hedges
To weigh up for himself and cut
A stick with which he would be beaten.
After a while, nothing was spoken;
He would arrive as a matter of course
With an ash-plant, a salley-rod.
Or, finally, the hazel-wand
He had whittled down to a whip-lash,
Its twist of red and yellow lacquers
Sanded and polished,
And altogether so delicately wrought
That he had engraved his initials on it.

I last met Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
In a pub just over the Irish border.
He was living in the open,
In a secret camp
On the other side of the mountain.
He was fighting for Ireland,
Making things happen.
And he told me, Joe Ward,
Of how he had risen through the ranks
To Quartermaster, Commandant:
How every morning at parade
His volunteers would call back Anseo

And raise their hands
As their names occurred.


by Paul Muldoon

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Dispatch from the Fringe" (a VideoPoem) by Paul E. Nelson



Here's a cool VideoPoem from Paul E. Nelson, a Seattle-based poet, writer and radio interviewer.

His achievements are too numerous to mention, but you can find out more about him here:


Here's a bit of information from his own blog:

"Over 26 years, Paul E Nelson has interviewed poetic luminaries such as Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Robin Blaser, Sam Hamill, Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, Jerome Rothenberg, Sam Hamill and George Bowering. As host of a whole-systems public affairs radio interview program, he also interviewed authors and activists who understand the shift from a mechanistic ethos to one of process, partnership and interconnection."



Credit for Video: Kyle McCormick, videographer