Thursday, December 27, 2007


Siv Cedering, Hardie St. Martin, Vincent Ferrini

In the "In Memoriam" note in the Jan.-Feb. 08 Poets & Writers magazine, I saw the names of two poets whose work has touched me in one way or another over the years.

One is Hardie St. Martin. I've known of him mainly as an editor and a translator of poetry from Spanish -- I first encountered his name, and his work, sometime in the 1970's, in the book Miguel Hernández and Blas de Otero: Selected Poems, published in 1972 by Beacon Press, one of the projects of those years done with the energetic involvement of Robert Bly and friends. These lines, from an untitled poem by Miguel Hernández in the above book, in St. Martin's translation:

Each time I pass
under your window
I am struck by the fragrance
that still floats through your house.
Hernández lived in Spain during the years of the Spanish Civil War, years of passionate and heartbreaking resistance to the fascist military regime that eventually took power (with aid from the German Nazi government) in 1939. Hernández was imprisoned by the right-wing government, and died in prison a few years later. "Old age in the towns," writes Miguel Hernández, in Hardie St. Martin's translation:

The heart without an owner.
Love without any object.
Grass, dust, crow.
And the young ones?

In the coffins.
(From a short poem titled "War," in the book noted above.)

Philip Levine, in his memoir The Bread of Time, published sometime in the past few years, has an engaging account of getting to know Hardie St. Martin during the 1970's when they were both living in Spain.

I first read Siv Cedering's poetry also sometime in the 1970's, in an anthology or two, and then in an early book of hers, Mother Is. A larger collection of her work is Letters from a Floating World: Selected and New Poems, published 1984 by University of Pittsburgh Press (and from which the excerpts below are quoted). Cedering's poetry has a cool haunting quality, marked with a highly northern sensibility, quietly evoking the presence of worlds and entities just beyond touch. From the poem "The Visitor":

If you open the door some evening
and there is nobody there,
don't be alarmed.
You heard the bell
and steps on the stair.
Let the emptiness enter.

Make room on the couch.
Hang her coat on a chair.
Move the roses away from her face.
There is a reason she has come
and she will tell you.
There is a reason you opened the door.
One of Cedering's poems that I first read more than 30 years ago, and that has stayed with me since, is "Letter to Peter Wilkins." In a short epigram to the poem, Cedering tells how an ancient chronicle recounts the journey of Peter Wilkins to Antarctica, where he found "a race of winged creatures," tried to teach them Christianity, wrote a history of his time there, and then left for England. In the poem, Cedering speaks in the voice of one of the winged beings:

I was not dead when you left me.

You thought me beautiful
and loved me.
You admired my arms' ability
to become
wings. [...]

[...]But it was too easy
to pull my quills
when you needed a pen
--to write your

I tried to believe in a god
who flew only once,
but as I see my sisters rise
over the Antarctic,
I question. I question.
Siv Cedering's webpage is still active as of the date of this post, so linking it here. Not sure how long the link may remain good.

And, in an email today came the news of the death of poet Vincent Ferrini this past Monday the 24th, at the age of 94. Ferrini was an old tough left-wing political poet who grew up in the industrial town of Lynn, Massachusetts. In later years he settled in Gloucester, Mass., where he and poet Charles Olson became friends and, often, friendly adversaries in a long argument in poems and letters over the years. Olson addressed some of his Maximus poems to Ferrini.

Ferrini's great large work, of which I've only seen fragments, was Know Fish, a multi-volume epic poem dealing with the ecology and economics of the commercial fishing industry and the life and culture that was built up around it, and the destructive dangers to the earth and humanity that come from predatory commerce. A generous selection of Ferrini's poetry is The Whole Song: Selected Poems edited by Kenneth A. Warren and Fred Whitehead, published 2004 by University of Illinois Press.

I'll write more about Vincent Ferrini in a future blogpost. For now, a few lines from his poem "Fluoroscope of Evening" (from the collection The Whole Song, noted above):

Telephone wires are secret
The streets dry rivers

A few old men support the corners
And taverns have the look of deserted women

The newsboy's voice is a lunatic
screeching against the stars [...]

[...] Those not out are sleeping for
next day's work

Some windows tell you how it is
You never noticed so many strangers before

They have all gone but the memory
The city is a ghost house with many corridors.
A fuller account of Ferrini's life and work is in an article in the Gloucester Daily Times, here.

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