Wednesday, July 27, 2005

on my back

I end every day the same way. I lay on my back, my feet hanging off the picnic table and I stare at this tree, until everything becomes clear. Or not, the truth is sometimes it rains or some nights the moon comes and I forget the tree. But it is the only thing I can do now I can’t write or paint. I can teach and lay on picnic tables and a part of me is okay with that. I spent the last three years working so hard on Teresa Ballard the writer I forgot the person.

I am falling in love with poets I never quite understood before. Carolyn Forche was always sending me words from Akhmatova and I was like well that is nice and while I was trying to be a writer I forgot the absolute passion of poetry, that a woman living in the early nineteen hundreds can rip my heart out of my chest.

And for the first time I am truly being still, with not jumping high and if I lose everything and gain the person what loss is that? Today I read these words

It is not with the lyre with someone in love
that I go seducing people.
That the rattle of leper
is what sings in my hands

and I knew that Ana had loved someone and failed someone. And if they had picnic tables back then, she was lying on her back, she was dreaming these words.


Lyle Daggett said...

I've dropped by your blog from time to time for a little while, though haven't posted a comment until now. I liked your posts about Akhmatova, also the one with the lines from Muriel Rukeyser.

Many of the poets I've known have gone through periods of stepping back a little, and then finding their way back to writing. It may be that that's part of the process for a lot of people.

After Rilke published his early books of poems, he more or less dried up for a number of years, and he began to feel that the essential urge has possibly left him. Then at one point he had a chance to spend a few weeks in more or less isolation in a castle on the coast of the Adriatic, and the Duino Elegies started coming out of him, and (if I remember the story right) some of the Sonnets to Orpheus.

Most of us obviously don't have the luxury of taking a few weeks off to live in a castle in Italy. But I thought of the story about Rilke when I read your post about lying on the picnic table staring at the tree in the evenings.

It seems to me that poetry (or whatever kind of creative work we do) tends to come especially from parts of ourselves we may have been neglecting or shoving into the background in some way, for whatever reasons or circumstances.

Years ago I attempted to translate a poem by Anna Akhmatova. I have mixed feelings about the result -- I don't really know Russian, and used an existing translation to help find my way through it. I found a pretty good English version of the poem (a translation very close to what the Russian original actually says) on the web, here.

early hours of sky said...

Lyle I will respond to this more when it is not the early hours of the morning but I wanted to post this for you from Kenyon’s translation. I wonder if it is the same poem.

There is a sacred, secret line in loving
which attraction and even passion cannot come,--
even if lips draw near in awful silence
and love tears at the heart.

Friendship is weak and useless here,
and years of happiness, exalted and full of fire,
because the soul is free and does not know
the slow luxuries of sensual life.

Those who try to come near it are insane
and those who reach it are shaken by grief.
So now you know exactly why
my heart beats no faster under your hand.

Oh and I hear we have a mutal friend in common, Mr. Roy McBride and I think I met you once at a party at heart of the beast.

Lyle Daggett said...

Theresa -- yes, the Kenyon translation you posted in the comment box is definitely the same poem. I was trying to remember if Jane Kenyon had translated that one but couldn't recall...

(The first version of the poem that I encountered was in Adrienne Rich's book Leaflets. Rich's version is not a translation as such -- she says in a footnote that she adapted her version from a plain prose translation in the Penguin Book of Socialist Verse. Of the various versions of the poem I've read, Rich's is maybe the furthest from the literal original, though I think it's still the one I like as a poem in English.)

And yes, Roy McBride and I have known each other for many years. I think he's the best poet here in Minneapolis (this city overflowing with poets).

I'm sorry I'm not recalling specifically when you and I met, though am not doubting you -- you mentioned Heart of the Beast, and it may have been at a (somewhat informally organized) poetry reading there a number of years ago in commemoration of Etheridge Knight, a year or so after he died. Not a "party" in the usual sense, though it wasn't at all a quiet or restrained evening.

Not sure if that was the occasion but it's the first one that comes to mind.

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