Thursday, April 13, 2006


In the wind of years

Spring slowly emerges from the earth here. Days washed in a languorous haze, or, when the haze melts away, huge splashes of sunlight. During the days, at work, I look out the gray-tinted windows of the office building where I work and I watch the light falling across the roofs of the buildings downtown. Cool dewy nights, chilly breeze at the bus stop in the mornings. Incessant chirp of sparrows. Some days, and nights, it rains, though not much so far. Vast waves of heat, rivers of wind, over the central plains of the continent. A phrase from a poem runs through my mind, lingering: " the speed of springtime..." The phrase is from a poem by Haitian poet Rene Depestre (the title of which I don't have in front of me) translated by Jack Hirschman (currently Poet Laureate of San Francisco), published many years ago in the magazine Alcatraz edited by Stephen Kessler.

During the past month the streets of the United States filled with people the government says don't belong here, angrily and defiantly and calmly and joyously announcing to the government and to the world that they do belong here for the same reason anybody else does: we're here. National borders are property lines drawn on a map for the profit of whoever holds the property deed, at the expense of the comfort and survival of whoever doesn't hold the deed. (Article here, much more on this if you go searching.)

Also, during the past couple of months, the streets of France filled with workers and students protesting a new labor law allowing employers to fire young workers "without cause" (as legal business calls it), workers on strike shutting down the daily working of commerce in France. Within the past week or so, perhaps haunted by the spectre of 1968, the French government announced they were backing away from the new labor law. (Articles here and here.)

Also today, word that Ford Motor Company will close the Ford plant across the river in St. Paul sometime in 2008. Currently around 1800 people work there.

Some lines from the poet Paul Eluard (in Uninterrupted Poetry: Selected Writings, translated by Lloyd Alexander, published 1975 by New Directions):

They had put in order
In the name of riches
Their misery their beloved

They gnawed away the flowers and the smiles
They found a heart only at the end of their rifles

They did not understand the curses of the poor
Of the poor carefree tomorrow

Sunless dreams made them eternal
But to change the cloud to mud
They went down they looked no longer at the sky

All their night their death their fine shadow misery
Misery for the others

We shall forget these indifferent enemies
(From the poem "Dawn Dissolves the Monsters").

Eluard, born in 1895, was a signer of many of the early twentieth century surrealist manifestos. By the 1930's he had become active in the political left, and supported the anti-fascist defense of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During the military and political occupation of France by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, Eluard was active in the Resistance movement. At some point during those years he joined the Communist Party. His poetry moved away from surrealism; he wrote stunning passionate poetry of politics and love. He died in 1952. From "Seven Poems in Love and War" (in the above-mentioned collection):

In the name of the perfect profound face
In the name of the eyes I look at
And the mouth I kiss
For today and for always

In the name of buried hope
In the name of tears in the darkness
In the name of sorrow that brings laughter
In the name of laughter that brings fear

In the name of laughter in the street
Of the gentleness that links our hands
In the name of fruits covering flowers
On an earth good and beautiful

In the name of the men in prison
In the name of the women deported
In the name of all our comrades
Martyred and massacred
For not accepting the shadow

We must drain our rage
And make the iron rise up
To preserve the high image
Of the innocent everywhere hunted
And who will triumph everywhere.
Also right now I'm reading some of Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos, translated by Jack Agueros (published 1997 by Curbstone Press). Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) is one of the giants of poetry in the twentieth century. Born in Puerto Rico, she was a poet and journalist who traveled widely, was prominent in world literary circles, and became active and involved in the revolutionary political struggles of her time. Her poems embrace the massive beauty and wildness of the sea and sky sun and wind, plunge headlong through the passions of love, and (especially in the poems written in her later years) burn bright with the fire of her political commitment.

I'll write more about Julia de Burgos at greater length in a future article here. For now, opening the book at random, here a a few lines, from the poem "Presence of Love on the Island" (written in Trinidad, Cuba):

Here my heart says "I love you"...
in the unbridled solitude of the island
coming through the tranquil eyes of the landscape.

The sea sometimes ascends the gravestone of the hills.
There it is green sky, as if wanting to rise to my hands.
The hill has not grown higher than a shoot.
The earth looks and grows.
They follow the warbles greeting the birds,
Here my heart, galloping the area,
says "I love you" in the green language of the woods. [...]

[...] A returned peace swings my spirit,
and my steps fall, as if dead, to the air.
Between the hills and the sea, through levels of pedigree,
Trinidad!, your streets greet me from legends.

wonderful essay! I especially loved that opening paragraph's descriptive detail and how it transitions into politics, poetry, life so seamlessly. You're one of my favorite 'critic' bloggers to read because your voice is always sincere and honest, and i never get the feeling that you're taking shots at writers just for the pleasure of doing it. Thanks!
Thank you, Jenni.
Your poems have strong meaning, very lyrical and inspiring. Keep up the good work.
Please feel free to stop by and visit:
It's 'nice' to see Paul Eluard being quoted. There's a line of his 'There is another world and it is right here.' Jean-Paul Sartre quoted in an essay and it turned out it was from the book Capital de la Douleur from way back in 1926. Eluard was also as you note a dada then a surealist and a personal friend of Tristan Tzara and Andre Breton. ANd then there's Salvidor Dali: the funniest story is about Gala, who was Eluard's lover and how they met Dali who at the time was a big masturbater, and they meet him and its INSTANT ELECTRIC Forever and Forever and Ever hot happy forever union and never to be taken apart Love Lust Gagagoo between Dali and Gala. Now that is a funny story, and it is Pure Poetry. Because no one knows if it is really true. As it is all in Dali's diary.

U surely know this one
Elle est debout sur mes paupières
Et ses cheveux sont dans les miens,
Elle a la forme de mes mains,
Elle a la couleur de mes yeux,
Elle s'engloutit dans mon ombre
Comme une pierre sur le ciel.

Elle a toujours les yeux ouverts
Et ne me laisse pas dormir.
Ses rêves en pleine lumière
Font s'évaporer les soleils
Me font rire, pleurer et rire,
Parler sans avoir rien à dire.

Translating Eluard's tricky as he looks simple sort of like Dali's anecdote; love lust aint never simple and nor is translation which word has its roots in hand-over or betrayal, betrayal being like its homophone portrayal a thing at second remove and there fore a representation and being a representation it tends to be off a little simulacrum a desire machine apoem at adistance. much of eluard does the contrary it pulls you it french language sucking you in like a kiss a breast that longs for a lover's mouth.
Its good to see someone speak of the poetry of Paul Eluard.
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