Calligraphy

Aha, I find the late fourth century pope Damasus
Had seen to it that the tombs of martyrs

Were given fresh distinction by calligraphy.
With a calligraphy from his own pen old stones

Were incised by a mason selected not only
For his dexterity, also for his sympathies.

How different it is, that order of things,
From the reburial, pronto, of carving dismembered

By the constructors of emporia and office blocks
Over the sunken city in modern Mylasa—

What do the planners care about things Greek,
Ancient inscriptions or extended gods

Who still cling with touches of sunlight
To fluted stone scheduled for reburial?

If mind did not become a Mylasa, who’d recall
The crates of American rifles in summer 1940,

And how the girls and boys of freedom lift
Those greased guns from the crates in England,

Old grease, with rags wipe every vestige off,
Clots of grease hidden in the dark magazines?

Plain or grainy, the wooden rifle butt,
Polish it up until it glows

Fitting snug into your skinny shoulder—
An age before you knew what calligraphy was.

by Christopher Middleton

Copyright © Christopher Middleton, 2010. ‘Calligraphy’ is taken from the volume Poems 2006-2009 by Christopher Middleton, published by Shearsman Books, 2010. It is reprinted here by permission of Shearsman Books.

Notes courtesy of Shearsman Books:

Christopher Middleton was born in Truro, Cornwall, in 1926. He studied at Merton College, Oxford and then taught at the University of Zürich, at King’s College, London, and finally as Professor of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas, Austin. He has published translations of Robert Walser, Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Goethe and many contemporaries, receiving several awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Schegel-Tieck Translation Prize. His poems, essays and selected translations are all published in the UK by Carcanet Press; his poems are published in the USA by Sheep Meadow Press. His most recent publications are: Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2008), The Anti-Basilisk (poetry, Carcanet Press, 2005—published as Tankard’s Cat in the USA by Sheep Meadow), Of the Mortal Fire (poetry, Sheep Meadow, 2003), Crypto-Topographia (prose, Enitharmon Press, London, 2002), The Word Pavilion and Selected Poems (Carcanet / Sheep Meadow, 2001), Jackdaw Jiving: Selected Essays on Poetry and Translation (Carcanet, 1998), Faint Harps and Silver Voices: Selected Translations (Carcanet, 2000). Christopher Middleton lives in Austin, Texas. You can find out more about his latest work here, hear him read from his work at this page, and read other selections from Poems 2006-2009 (in pdf) here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

exit

it’s not just in dream that it’s often happened to
me that I’ve been unable to find the exit through
the right door got into trains going in the wrong
direction it was a station I only half recognised
that was a fright but I was under glass and was
fixed to that spot and could not move because
I had just got to that place in the book I began
to sense surging flushes in my blood I walked
around in the woods and could feel warm light
and slackly let myself be led to an edge images
came but they were not giving me pain any more
like they used to for beneath dead treetops the
wilderness was coming alive with fern and fox-
glove and I went back into the gullies of streets
incomprehensibly distant in my blood in its
suites of rooms without windows I walked and I
ran in circles for a while until something beneath
my jacket heaved I clutched at it with my right
hand and held it and breathed hard at the edge
of the platform I bent forward and saw the tracks

by Norbert Hummelt

Copyright © Luchterhand Literaturverlag, 2007. Translation copyright © Catherine Hales, 2010. ‘exit’ is taken from the German volume Totentanz, and appears in English in Berlin Fresco — Selected Poems by Norbert Hummelt, translated by Catherine Hales, Shearsman Books, 2010. It is reprinted here by permission of Shearsman Books.

Notes courtesy of Shearsman Books:

A poet, essayist, publisher, and translator, Norbert Hummelt was born in Neuss am Rhein in 1962. From 1983 to 1990 he studied German and English in Cologne and since 1991 he has been a freelance writer. He has been living in Berlin since 2006, having previously also lived in New York, Dublin and Amsterdam. Since 2005 he has been publisher of the Lyrikedition 2000, which publishes new editions of out-of-print 20th century poetry collections, as well as first collections by new poets. He is also editor of the journal Text+Kritik. He has taught at the Deutsche Literaturinstitut (German Literature Institute) in Leipzig and at the Universität der Künste (University of the Arts) in Berlin. He has translated the poetry of W.B. Yeats, Wordsworth and Inger Christensen, as well as T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and The Waste Land. You can read more from the book here, and hear Hummelt read from his poems (in German, with a number of translations of the texts) at this page.

The translator, Catherine Hales, grew up in Surrey, but now lives near the Spree in Berlin, where she works as a freelance translator. Her poetry and translations of contemporary German poetry have appeared in many magazines, including Tears in the FencePoetry Salzburg ReviewFireStrideand Shadowtrain. Catherine Hales’s poem ‘temporary lodging’ was the Brookes weekly poem for 15 November, 2010.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

My Brother Was Writing Poetry

While I was writing my verses, my brother was working on his boat. He carefully dismantled the seats. He upturned the boat, sanded it down to white (making the cherry-tree turn white). Then he took it to a master to be given a number, to pass the test more easily. He applied putty for hours, then an undercoat, the way people polish teeth against tartar or put plasters on grazed knees. He circled it and wondered what to christen it. He named it after the hero of his favourite film. While I was working, my brother was writing poetry.

by Tsvetanka Elenkova

Copyright © Tsvetanka Elenkova, 2005. Translation copyright © Jonathan Dunne, 2010.

‘My Brother Was Writing Poetry’ is taken from the volume The Seventh Gesture by Tsvetanka Elenkova, translated by Jonathan Dunne, and reprinted by permission of Shearsman Books.

Notes courtesy of Jonathan Dunne and Shearsman Books:

Tsvetanka Elenkova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1968. She is the author of three poetry collections – The Stakes of the LegionAmphipolis of the Nine Roads and The Seventh Gesture – together with a book of essays, Time and Relation. Her work has been translated into twelve languages and, in English, has appeared in magazines such as Poetry ReviewModern Poetry in Translation and Absinthe. An English edition of The Seventh Gesture, which Sarah Crown called ‘an unusual, uplifting collection’, was published by Shearsman Books in 2010. She translates poetry from English, Greek and Macedonian, including collections by Raymond Carver, Bogomil Gjuzel and Fiona Sampson, and has been a guest at several literary festivals (Vilenica, Poeteka, Tinos). Her translation of the anthology of Indian mystic poetry Speaking of Siva was nominated for the Hristo G. Danov National Literary Award in 2000. She is the Bulgarian Writers Association’s representative at the International Writers and Translators Centre of Rhodes, and also co-directs the publishing house Small Stations Press. You can find out more about Elenkova here, and read more of her work here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

temporary lodging

as good a place as any       where the book
just falls open       mid-sentence       to start
here       & subvert the order      far

from the madding       & hardly
a stone standing       cities we’d imagined
way off the beaten       the word is out

let’s follow that as far as it’ll take us
to the edge where even the largest continent
crumbles       how do we bear this

awakening       here       where you come from
you told me once       before the noise begins
at first light you can hear the lions in the zoo

all over the city       you cried remembering
here at least the windows are watertight
for the time being       we can take our chance

by Catherine Hales

Copyright © Catherine Hales, 2010.

‘temporary lodging’ is taken from the volume hazard or fall, and reprinted by permission of Shearsman Books.

Notes courtesy of Shearsman Books:

Catherine Hales grew up near the Thames in Surrey and (after a few years in Norwich and Stuttgart) now lives near the Spree in Berlin, where she works as a freelance translator. Her poetry and translations of contemporary German poetry have appeared in many magazines, including ShearsmanTears in the FencePoetry Salzburg ReviewFireStrideHaiku QuarterlyGreat Works and Shadowtrain. She is a co-organiser of Poetry Hearings, the Berlin festival of English-language poetry, and has been described (by ExBerliner magazine) as a “Berlin poetry heavyweight”. Her pamphlet out of time appeared in 2006; hazard or fall is her first full-length collection, and her work also appears in the anthology Infinite Difference. Her translation of Norbert Hummelt’s Selected Poems, Berlin Fresco, also appears in 2010. You can find out more about Catherine Hales here, and read more poems from her book here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

In Xochicalco

Cows grazing among the ruins.
The dry cornfield extends a yellow fence.
Walls of fog blur directions.
No flower opens.
Thorns catch in clothing
and the jaguar devours the heart.

Drizzle,
         precarious offering.
Droplets draw fleeting signs in puddles—
no more fleeting than the day
when we saw what we loved most
fall apart between our hands
                                  like an ancient urn.

We waded the fog like a river.
It surrounded the hills.
Only the peaks emerged like islands.

Purple,
ashy face of earth.
Voices like bats’ wings
through the stone notches
where the hills meet,
where the wind cuts
                         like an obsidian knife.

The black air widens.
The mist blinds us,
it closes around the temple.
The same mist wraps the heart.

Higher up,
deeper under the earth,
wherever she goes who gathers souls,
she who scatters ashes.

by Elsa Cross

Original poem © Elsa Cross, 1991. Translation © Luis Ingelmo & Michael Smith, 2009.

Note: Xochicalco is the site of an impressive Aztec temple, not far from Mexico City.

Elsa Cross was born in Mexico City in 1946. The majority of her work has been published in the volume Espirales. Poemas escogidos 1965-1999 (UNAM, 2000), but a new complete edition of her poetry will appear this year, published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica in Mexico City. ‘In Xochicalco’ is taken from the recent volume Selected Poems, published by Shearsman Books, edited by Tony Frazer, and translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano, Ruth Fainlight, Luis Ingelmo & Michael Smith, and John Oliver Simon.

Cross’s poems have been translated into twelve languages and published in magazines and more than sixty anthologies in different countries. She has an MA and PhD in Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she holds a professorship and teaches Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Mythology. In 2008 Elsa Cross was awarded the most prestigious poetry prize in Mexico, the Xavier Villurrutia Prize, an award that she shared with Pura López-Colomé. You can find out more about Elsa Cross here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

Please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

Notebook Hokku

1.

Low grey cloud. Against
the wind, the melancholy weight
of one last heron.

2.

Invisible across the field
the echo of an axe
among the cricket willows.

3.

Cold summer wind. And
unripe apples, tossed up, thump
the light green under foliage.

4.

Immobile and clotted, black
fly submit to red ants’ traffic
on the runner bean stalk.

5.

Inside the ruins of this fallen
willow: damp earth, fungus
and dry white fruit stones.

6.

As the flycatcher
pirouettes,
the globe revolves with it.

7.

Silence huge. A solitude without limit.
What moves through these spaces?
Not I but a function.

8.

Picking through a bowl of damsons.
Fame, success, enlightenment.
These are well-construed notions.

9.

Damsons in handfuls echo
in the basin. Quiet between
mouth and a dark blue flavour.

10.

Bird song was scrolled
tightly, as I walked beside
the elder, between umbels.

by Tom Lowenstein

© Tom Lowenstein, 2009

Author’s Note: These shorter forms were suggested and inspired by Japanese and Chinese poetry, but I have not attempted to write haiku. The title of this sequence is the nearest I’ve come to admitting that some of the poems, in this section particularly, represent haiku echoes. All of the above are to be read as separate individual poems, notwithstanding the common title.

These poems are drawn from Conversation with Murasaki by Tom Lowenstein (Shearsman Books, 2009).

Tom Lowenstein was born near London in 1941. After completing his education at Cambridge University, he taught for six years in English secondary schools. He has also taught English and creative writing at Northwestern University, worked for the Alaska State Museum and spent a year, in the mid-1970s, in an Alaskan Eskimo village, recording and translating its legends and histories. This work was later to bear fruit in a number of publications: Eskimo poems from Canada and GreenlandThe Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People (University of California Press, 1992); Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, 1993; Harvill, 2000). He has also written on Buddhism.

Tom Lowenstein’s own poetry has been collected in The Death of Mrs Owl (Anvil, 1977), Filibustering in Samsara (Many Press, 1987), in the Ancient Land: Sacred Whale volume, and in the Shearsman Books publications Ancestors and Species: New & Selected Ethnographic Poetry (2005) and Conversation with Murasaki (2009). You can discover more about Tom Lowenstein and his poetry here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.