Thursday, October 29, 2009

Human Shields play Rumpus with Miles Delpho

Here's my band Human Shields in its first "plugged" appearance, with my nine-year-old son Miles Delpho on drums. Miles is a student of Lorenz Hunziker at the Drum School Basel, and this event was the Open House of the Drum School.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Waste their presence in New York

Here's something fun (hat tip to Karin): Translation Party.

Here's what it gave me when I entered the first lines of "Homeward Bound":

But I'm really just a poor boy, I'm not talking a little about it. New York, has pledged the money to waste their presence in New York.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2010 Alhambra Poetry Calendars

The 2010 Alhambra Poetry Calendars are now available. I'm honored to have a poem of mine in the English edition yet again, but I'd also like to recommend that those who read other languages pick up one of the other editions as well; I got the German and French editions for 2009 and have been enjoying them immensely.

Monday, October 12, 2009


In this passage from Don Paterson's "Phantom" (from his collection Rain), the "it" at the beginning refers to "matter":

It made an eye to look at its fine home,
but there, within its home, it saw its death;

and so it made a self to look at death,

but then within the self it saw its death;

and so it made a soul to look at self,

but then within the soul it saw its death;

and so it made a god to look at soul,

and god could not see death within the soul,

for god
was death. In making death its god
the eye had lost its home in finding it.

We find this everywhere the eye appears.

Were this design, this would have been the flaw. (57)

For proponents of "intelligent design," the eye is evidence of design in nature; they argue that the eye's "irreducible complexity" is proof that it cannot be the product of a process of natural selection of random mutations. This passage from Paterson, then, provides both a narrative of the evolution of religious belief (eye-home-self-soul-god; a sequence motivated by the eye's awareness of death) and a critique of intelligent design: "Were this design ..." The eye is not evidence of design but counterevidence. (Before I go on about the poem, I should add that the eye is a bad example as evidence of "intelligent design": the evolutionary steps that lead to the eye are well-documented.)

Now the fact that this argument or narrative appears in a poem (and not an essay) is enough to make its claims a little bit unstable; claims made in literary texts are of a different order than those made in scientific or philosophical texts (Literary Theory 101). But this passage is rendered even more unstable than usual by the context it appears in: it is the third of three italicized stanzas that conclude the sixth section of Paterson's seven-part "Phantom." The first stanza of the section introduces the speaker of the italicized material (I am italicizing this because that's what I do with quotations in blog posts):

For one whole year, when I lay down, the eye
looked through my mind uninterruptedly

and I knew a peace like nothing breathing should.

I was the no one that I was in the dark womb.

One night when I was lying in dark meditation

the I-Am-That-I-Am-Not spoke to me

in silence from its black and ashless blaze

in the voice of Michael Donaghy the poet.

It had lost his lightness and his gentleness

and took on that plain cadence he would use

when he read out from the
Iliad or the Táin. (56)

In the poem's overall arc, then, the passage I began with is spoken by "the I-Am-That-I-Am-Not" "in the voice of Michael Donaghy" to the speaker of the whole sequence. Donaghy's voice continues to speak in the poem's next (and final) section, where that voice refers to the poem's overall speaker as "Donno." Thus, the poem's conceit is that the italicized passages are spoken by a version of God (not "I Am That I Am" but "I Am That I Am Not") in the voice of a deceased poet (Donaghy) to the poet who is writing the poem ("Donno," presumably meant to be Paterson himself, in spite of Literary Theory 101).

Beyond that, the passage I began with is dismissed both by the voice of Donaghy and by "Donno." Donaghy's voice begins the final section by saying, "Donno, I can't keep this bullshit up" (58). And after the italics have gone on for another two pages, "Donno" interrupts the speech (again, these italics are mine, to mark the quotation):

He went on with his speech, but soon the eye
had turned on him once more, and I'd no wish

to hear him take that tone with me again. (59)

Thus, the wonderful passage on the eye's metaphorical evolution into a godhead is implicitly called into question (or even repudiated) in at least three ways: first, it is spoken by a godlike figure, the "I-Am-That-I-Am-Not," who, in keeping with the negation in his name, denies himself while also asserting himself at the same time (in the "I Am" and in the very presence of his words). Secondly, the voice of Donaghy dismisses the eye passage as "bullshit." Finally, "Donno" refuses to listen further when Donaghy's voice returns to that tone later in his speech.

As a result, the poem cannot be reduced to a contribution to a critique of intelligent design. Instead, it presents an expository argument in a context that allows it to be fully developed in an extended conceit, while also not allowing the argument to take over the poem. I love that poetic negation of intelligent design, but I also have to finally admit that what makes the poem compelling is not this vivid, rhetorically powerful passage but how it problematizes its own power by framing the passage so intriguingly. As an evolutionist, I want that argument to be made, but as a reader of poetry, I revel in how that argument becomes one facet of the whole poem's exploration (not resolution) of the issues it raises.

Friday, October 09, 2009

10 years of lyrikline

Here's a press release from the wonderful Berlin-based poetry website lyrikline:

26 – 31 October

world wide poetry: 10 years of

Week of events in Berlin

We are celebrating, come and celebrate with us! For ten years now, the website for poetry has been seeing to it that international poetry is freely available and accessible everywhere. Reason enough to celebrate with a whole week of events opened by German President Horst Köhler. Sixteen Embassies and cultural institutions are joining the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin in organising a week of poetry readings throughout Berlin to mark this occasion. And if you can’t get to Berlin, never mind. You can listen to the final event of the week on 31 October 2009 at 20 hours CET in a live streaming in the Internet, as well as having the opportunity to take part in a special chat. Berlin-based poet Steffen Popp will be commentating the event live on Twitter. has been an ongoing success story since its inception in 1999. There is a huge audience for poetry, even if book publications and sales are in a world-wide decline and publishers are ever more wary of it. There are now 600 poets online on with 5,500 poems in 50 languages, with translations into 48 languages. Partners in 40 countries collaborate in, which began as an initiative by the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin.

The week of events to mark “10 years of” is under the patronage of the EU Commissioner for Multilingualism, Leonard Orban.

The week of events is taking place in cooperation with: the Embassy of the Republic of Argentina, the Embassy of the Republic of Estonia, the Embassy of the Republic of Finland, the Embassy of the Republic of Iceland, the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, the Embassy of the Republic of Macedonia, the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Flemish Representation, the Greek Culture Foundation, Berlin branch, the Ramon Llull Institute – Berlin, the Italian Cultural Institute, Berlin, The Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Titu Maiorescu Romanian Cultural Institute, Berlin, the Slovakian Institute, Berlin and the Québec Government Office in Berlin.

With kind support from:

The Working Group of Literary Societies, Foreign Office, Senate Chancellery – Cultural Affairs, Prussian Maritime Foundation, the Representation of the European Commission in the FRG, The Heinrich-Böll Foundation, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Mandala Hotel

Programme of the week of events to mark 10 years of

Mon. 26 October

Password: Poetry


7,30 pm, Palais, Kulturbrauerei, Schönhauser Allee 36, 10435 Berlin, Entrance free, Advance reservation required at till 21th October

Featuring Lebogang Mashile (South Africa), Monika Rinck (Germany) Music: Aki Takase (Japan)
In the presence of German President Horst Köhler

Tues. 27 October

Greece: The Blast of Time

6.30 pm Greek Culture Foundation, Wittenbergplatz 3a, 10789 Berlin, Entrance free

Featuring Dionýsis Kapsális (Greece), Moderated by: Anna Lazaridou


North-North-East: a Nordic-Baltic evening

8 pm Nordic Embassies, Felleshus, Rauchstrasse 1, 10787 Berlin, Entrance free, please reserve a seat at

Featuring Simen Hagerup (Norway), Lauri Otonkoski (Finland), Steinunn Sigurðardóttir (Iceland) Elo Viiding (Estonia)

Weds. 28 October

Croatia: Mirrored Words

6 pm Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, Ahornstrasse. 4, 10787 Berlin

Entrance free. Please reserve a seat on 030-2192-5514

Featuring Branko Cegec (Croatia),: Dieter M. Gräf (Germany), Karen Kiwus (Germany), Zvonko Maković (Croatia) and Andriana Škunca (Croatia)

Moderated by: Alida Bremer


Poetry Below Sea-Level

8 pm Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Klosterstrasse 50, 10179 Berlin

Entry free, please reserve a seat at:

Featuring: Luuk Gruwez (Flanders), Ramsey Nasr (The Netherlands), Victor Schiferli (The Netherlands) and Mark van Tongele (Flanders)

Music: Ma Rain (The Netherlands)

Thurs. 29 October

Slovakia: Electromagnet Love

6 pm Berlin Slovakian Institute, Zimmerstrasse 27, 10969 Berlin. Entrance free

Featuring Martin Solotruk (Slovakia) Music: David Kollar (Slovakia) Moderated by: Angela Repka


The Poetry of Obstinacy: reading and discussion
8 pm
Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, Knaackstrasse 97, 10435 Berlin, Entrance free
Featuring Nicole Brossard (Québec), Teresa Pascual (València) Translators: Juana Burghardt (Argentina), Tobias Burghardt (Germany), Odile Kennel (Germany)
Moderated by: Frank Heibert

Fri. 30 October
Macedonia: On the borders of poetry
5 pm Embassy of the Republic of Macedonia, Koenigsallee 2, 14193 Berlin
Entrance free
Featuring: Claudia Keelan (USA), Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia), Zvonko Maković (Croatia) and Uljana Wolf (Germany / USA)

Slovenia: The Magic of Slovenian Poetry

6.30 pm Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia, Hausvogteiplatz 3-4, 10117 Berlin

Entrance free

Featuring: Milan Dekleva (Slovenia), Gregor Podlogar (Slovenia)

Argentina / Italy:

Transeurope Hotel & Argentinian Visions

8 pm Instituto Cervantes, Rosenstrasse 18, 10178 Berlin, 2576180

Entrance free

Featuring: Bruno Capezzuoli (Italy), Luigi Cinque (Italy), Silvana Franzetti (Argentina), Daniel Samoilovich (Argentina)

Moderated by Timo Berger & Rike Bolte

Romania: POETRY LIVE – The Long Night of Young Romanian Poetry

10 pm (expected to last until 3 am), Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, Knaackstr. 97, 10435 Berlin

Entrance free

Featuring: Constantin Acosmei (Romania), Svetlana Carstean (Romania), Rita Chirian (Romania), Gabi Eftimie (Romania), Sorin Gherguţ (Romania), Vasile Leac (Romania), Stefan Manasia (Romania), Vlad Moldovan (Romania), Ioana Nicolae (Romania), Olga Stefan (Romania) Moderated by Răzvan Ţupa

Sat. 31 October
world wide poetry


8 pm Tape Club, Heidestrasse 14, 10557 Berlin (Near main station and Hamburger Bahnhof gallery), Entrance EUR 5/3 with conceesions, tickets on the door
Featuring Nicole Brossard (Québec), Babangoni wawa Chisale (Malawi), Elke Erb (Germany), Claudia Keelan (USA), Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia), Thomas Möhlmann (Netherlands), Joseph Molapong (Namibia), Remi Raji (Nigeria), Daniel Samoilovich (Argentina), Lutz Seiler (Germany)
Moderated by: Knut Elstermann (journalist based in Berlin)

Meeting a Man from the Motor Trade

I've long loved the Beatles song "She's Leaving Home," but I've also long been puzzled by the line "waiting to keep the appointment she'd made, meeting a man from the motor trade." The Wikipedia page on the song has lots of information about how it was written, but it does not saying anything about the significance of "the motor trade." Does "the motor trade" have any significance here? (Perhaps, as an American, I am missing some British slang?)

Here's Brad Mehldau's version of the song, in any case:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A riddle

Miles and I just wrote this riddle.


The first will bring you messages
from someone up above.

The second always finds a way
to make you fall in love.

The third's the only one of us
with but a single friend.

The fourth would like to start a war
that will never end.

The fifth killed number six
in order to be king,

while number six, his father,
has more than just one ring.

Number seven is as green
as number three is blue,

while number eight lives in the sea,
far away from you.

Nine's the devil, by the way,
and now we've nothing more to say.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


I've been enjoying Born in a Barn, by The Scaremongers, which is a British band whose singer is none other than poet Simon Armitage. I picked it up because I'll be teaching a seminar on Armitage next term, and I thought it would be fun to have some of his lyrics/songs to consider, too.

Of the songs on the CD, I particularly like "From the Shorelines of Venus," which as far as I can tell you can only listen to by buying the CD, but if you want to check out some of the tunes, a few can be heard on the band's MySpace page.

Perhaps I'll soon get around to ordering a CD by Rackett, too (Paul Muldoon's band).