So much happened in 2015 that my breath seems to be returning only as spring remains an aloof glimmer. I left a beloved job and began a new one. I gave birth to a daughter, a new chapbook, and wrote my first political poem, too. There were readings I was lucky to be part of and several I hosted– the latest with some incredible poets (Angela Hume, Donna de la Perriere, and Gillian Conoley!) for the half decade birthday of the Lone Glen series. My poem “Waiting”found a home in the final issue of alice blue, a journal I will miss, while “The Last Word” appeared in the 20th anniversary edition of VOLT. In the year of the Monkey, I look forward to reading my newest work about motherhood and gender on behalf of local Quaci Press, a small publishing house that’s putting out an anthology of ladies’ writing this winter. I’m grateful too that Fourteen Hills has chosen to take on a poem called “Oakland” that responds to the Bay Area rent crisis. Now in the middle of writing a review and doing an interview of two other poets I admire, I know 2016 is going to be another inspiring year….
On February 19th, 7:00 pm, Monday Night journal is celebrating thirteen years of print publishing and its new step into cyber space. I’m excited to read from my poems in the (print) Issue 13, along with contributors Lyndsey Ellis and Caroline Goodwin at E.M. Wolfman’s eclectic bookstore in Oakland. It should be a colorful evening with plenty of back issues of the journals to peruse and enjoy.
Celebrating the spirit of collaboration at our eleventh Lone Glen, we are thrilled to host poets Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr on the evening of Saturday, August 16th. Join us at 6:30 in our garden to hear both their individual works and a new, co-written poem. We will welcome you with libations and snacks, but please feel free to contribute! Find us at 3132 Harrison Street in Oakland. For more info, go to loneglen.wordpress.com
Thanks to Samantha Giles and Small Press Traffic for graciously hosting over fifty poets on the longest day of the year. It was hosted in the gorgeous garden of the hospitable Juliana Spahr. It was lovely to see so many poets laughing together in one space and to feel community in the often-too-distancing SF realm. Genine Lentine was particularly hilarious, and Owen and I hope to woo her as well as some others for Lone Glen this summer….I read a poem about Sisyphus and one about time (we only got five minutes). This was my second year at Endless Summer….what an inspiring space.
I am honored to celebrate spring’s arrival with these writers and artists:
2 April, 6:30 pm– A reading and panel discussion about art and poetry at St. Mary’s College. I very much look forward to reading with these incredibly talented poets: Brenda Hillman, Raina Leon, Kevin Simmonds, and Sara Mumolo. Our discussion about the relationship between our books’ text and cover art should prove particularly interesting.
8 April, Tuesday at 7 pm– A poetry reading at San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore with Raina J. León and Kevin Simmonds. We will read from our latest work! Thank you to Raina for spearheading this reading at my favorite bookstore.
9 April, Wednesday at 7 pm– A poetry reading at Berkeley’s Pegasus Books with poets Raina J. León, Valerie Witte, and Erica Lewis. We look forward to gathering an east bay & SF crowd!
Valerie is one of my favorite San Francisco poets. We will be reading at the beautiful Felix Kulpa Gallery for A New Cadence Poetry Series. Join us for a cool evening!
My original post published thanks to Susan Scarlata at Lost Roads Press http://lostroads.org/blog/
Alexandra Mattraw on Rene Char’s “Not Eternal Nor Temporal,” translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson (Tupelo Press), originally published in Char’s “Le Nu perdu” (1971).
“O wheat in May, green in the shivering earth that has never known sweat. A happy distance from diving suns of the ends of lives. Low-lying under the long night. Color glows, watered. For vigil and last rites, two bedside blades: the skylark, bird who alights, and the crow, the spirit engraving itself.” – Rene Char
Most new parents would agree that the first six weeks with their newborns lured them into a ferocious battle with Time and Pain. This battle, which usually boils down to one with Control (or lack thereof), can’t be won by the human sufferer in any linear sense. I believe poet Rene Char also knew a version of this truth. In the midst of dawn surreality, before the new day has broken but after the fan humming comfort of post dinner drowsiness, a mother awakens. Her heart tightens, her eyes widen in terror, and her disembodied physical self moves to the yowling bassinet, her will dominated by a biological imperative that has nothing to do with human law or Time blinking rudely in iPhone glow. An hour or so later, after the sh*t, piss, nursing, blood, vomit, drool, swaddling, rocking, and crying (by both parties), she lays her tiny beloved back down with the most tender and careful of gestures, realizing that one wrong move could destroy the moment, startle her baby awake, ruffle her tired husband, and begin the cycle all over again. Yet later, mother and father learn the pointlessness of judging any moment as a static entity over which they can exercise control.
It is within this swampy reality, where I quickly learned to be grateful for a glass of ice water (let alone a shower) that I reread this mysterious little prose poem by Char. The title alone encompasses the exact paradox I continue to consider as a new mother and an amateur Buddhist. How to embrace the moment and suffering despite the chains of our socially constructed view of Time? As such, the “O Wheat” apostrophe here thrusts me into a different sort of meditation: How can I, through a radical acceptance, survive my human vulnerability without dwelling on that very frailty?
Char claims this wheat “[shivers in an] earth that has never known sweat.” He personifies wheat that knows sweat only from the hot farmer’s dripping brow yet paradoxically “shivers” like an infant. Doesn’t a body sweat in order to shiver and cool down in spring heat? No, Char reminds us, Demeter’s wheat will never know pain or suffering, or at least, not through our chosen understanding of these categories.
I’m also interested in the rather obscure image of “A happy distance from diving suns of the ends of lives.” Certainly, this emotionless wheat trembles (with fantastic, French Symbolist influenced synesthesia!), but only because of wind. Unlike people, unlike prideful Icarus falling from the sun, wheat does not obsess itself with beginnings nor ends, nor with the horror of looming war, nor with the terrible grief of a colleague who passes, nor even with the joy resulting from a son’s first smile. However, even this metatemporal wheat, united with nature (and all that stands beyond Time), grows old and meets its thresher, as will I, as will my son, greeting an inevitable “vigil and last rites.” Of course, the curious difference is that the wheat, like Wallace Stevens’ Snow Man, moves within a song beyond thinking, “low lying under the long night” (Char). The wheat grows through the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Stevens). I respect wheat that doesn’t fret about the existential is-ness of its plight.
Interestingly, the final sentence of Char’s poem also recalls his belief that “the truth is in the blade.” We are confronted with “two bedside blades,” “the skylark” and “the crow.” Surely, a double-edged truth then. Char teaches us that truth and beauty can only result in the coexistence of good and evil; life and death; empathy and violence. In digesting Char’s symbology, I return to my postpartum experience in which my child was my skylark (symbol of daybreak/light/life), while my physical pain and resulting spiritual realignment led me to several deaths: my own childhood and idealizations about parenthood being merely two of them.
Char’s conceptual vision in these lines isn’t my only fascination. I can’t help but note the striking musicality of Carlson’s sonically resonant translation. She has preserved the aural essence of Char’s French as well as his poetics, inventing layered assonance and resulting internal rhyme; lulling alliteration; and a condensation that allows each image to sharpen its counterpart. For instance, Char’s “O le ble vert dans une terre qui n’a pas encore sue, qui n’a fait que grelotter!” becomes “O wheat in May, green in the shivering earth . . .” In English, this long “e” assonance has always reminded me of the wet, fertile green rush of May. The sound itself elongates in the throat and mimics a sigh of contentment. This gorgeous lyrical pattern echoes throughout all the lines: “wheat,” “green,” “shivering,” “happy,” “diving,” “lying,” and “engraving.” Similarly, the repeated long “i” fills us with a delightful brightness: “lives,” “lying,” “diving,” “night,” “rites,” “bedside,” and finally, “alights.” The poem is endowed with a feeling of crescendo (“color glows,” a bird who lights and flies up in order to land/ “alight”) and decrescendo (“low lying,” “diving,” “watered,” “engraving,” etc.), with the appropriately woeful “O” assonance repeating as well. In short, we are gifted with an explosion of song that comprises both sides of Char’s bladed and rather violent truth—one that Blake and Keats also new well— death and suffering (“the crow”) sit in the same temple with birth/joy (“the skylark”) and are wed as one “spirit” (Keats, “Ode on Melancholy” and Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).
Perhaps, Char challenges us to encounter a vision of Time’s meaninglessness, teaching us to live each day with gentleness, with what I recently heard someone call a “circumcised heart.” This open heart comprehends each blade life deals us as one incision closer to a fuller life— a higher consciousness.
I am so grateful to have read with poets Raina Leon, Jessica Wickens, and Della Watson at Green Apple, on August 22nd in the Granny Smith room. These ladies read their incredible poems with an infectious air of spontaneity and passion, and I have to say that it was my favorite reading experience so far. In the cute-as-a-button Granny Smith nook, we enjoyed wine, cheese, and the company of several good friends (and some interesting strangers, too!). Thanks to Nick, Ashley, and all who helped us out that night…
Join us at Bird & Beckett for a father’s day poetry reading to celebrate the emergence of our new works. I am excited and honored to be reading from my two newest chapbooks (just out this week!) along with poets Raina Leon and Jessica Wickens, both of whom will be reading from their new and inspiring poetry books. My two new chabpooks are not the only small packages that will accompany me; my partner and I will also be taking our newborn son on his first outing to San Francisco. What better way to celebrate all these blessings than with poetry in the cozy reading nook that is Bird & Beckett Books & Records, a charming little bookstore in the heart of Glen Park. The store is an easy, quick walk from the Glen Park Bart. We begin at 2 pm with some snacks and refreshments, and we will have all our new works available for your perusal. Hope you can join us!!