I recently read Colin Will
's Sushi & Chips
. Here are a few good lines from the book:
seabirds sound their evening calls,
muted, sad, because we think it so.
... the tide's lapping advance,
a twice-daily fish delivery system.
Childhood's a passive thing:
memories are of happenings,
a blue splash—
a silver fish
flies up to the branch
The first two of these struck me with how they mixed natural description with something that disrupts the description: the human interpretation of the scene in the first case, the metaphor derived from human technology in the second. Technological metaphors in nature poetry:SOUNDS OF SPRING
It's been quieter here
since the trained Tornados left
for the whirlwind of war—
The noise at first felt
rather than heard,
a road-drill in the sky, then
that flickering bass thump
The Chinook starred
in a small blue gap,
twin rotors birling above
the fat body sycamored
from Lakenheath to Leuchars.
Special delivery, I'd guess,
something to shock the seagulls
and an old man painting his fence red.
In Ohio, where I grew up, tornadoes come in the summer. But here, the planes are signs of spring as sure as seagulls or any other natural image.
The relationship between technology and nature is also nicely highlighted by this wonderfully titled poem:KIDNEY DONOR WEATHER
Summer shine, warm air, dry roads,
and the leathers come out.
Wintered bikes are serviced,
commuter car garaged for the weekend.
Time to zip past slow lines
of the drab, looking good,
feeling better, weightless on the crests,
forks telescoped heavy in the dips,
on the bends and bays beside Loch Lubnaig.
The line of today is endless and easy;
hands, feet, body, eyes, machine,
all one system for going forward,
for changing time into now,
mountains and water into scenery.
Twin lights are on, to be seen, to be sure,
and all other drivers are stupid, certain
to do the crazy, to miss the obvious,
to turn without signals, brake
from confusion, cross your line.
Helmet turns head into a bug’s eye,
but you remember how it sounded
scraping the road, how your elbow hit,
snapping clavicle. It won’t happen again,
not to you, not ever to you, not this sunny day.
As a vehement wearer of a helmet when bicycling, I can really relate to this poem. :-)
But Sushi & Chips
also contains some more straightforward nature poetry:
I held the little bird,
palm of one hand, still,
no need to form a kist
with the other.
Eyes were shut,
beak open and,
I saw, cracked
Wing-shaped feather dust
on the kitchen window
a visual echo
of the sudden thump.
Back arched up slightly.
I still felt fast heart beats
flutter, then the moment
— Or perhaps that is not as straightforward, after all.
The book also contains some striking poems about relationships, especially "Circumstantial Evidence" and "Foundations," but I'll let you get your own copy
in order to read them.
Here's my ranked list (my favorite is at the top):
82. Lightfall, by Pamela Alexander
78. Two Poems, by Tessa Rumsey (vote for both poems as a unit)
80. What Knits, by Paul Celan, trans. Ian Fairley
79. Don't Write History as Poetry, by Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Fady Joudah
83. Ars Poetica, by Henrietta Goodman
84. Tobacco, by Peg Boyers
81. Bucolics III, by Maurice Manning (only the first poem)
My vote goes to Ian Fairley's translation of "Was näht". 36 years after its publication, Celan's posthumous volume of poems, _Schneepart_, certainly one of the major works of twentieth century poetry, has finally been translated into English. Of course, no translation can ever be definitive; but every translation adds a reading--a voice--to the poem.
I can't say I'm partial to any of the selections this week. The winner is no doubt Celan in German, but then I can't read the poem in Arabic, so...no fair. In fact, though being a translator you might not like it, I can't really rank the translations with the others. The poem from Arabic reads in English like lines lifted from someone's notebook. And Celan in English is dull, not at all charming and not nearly so winningly enigmatic. So I don't really want to include either of those poems in my vote. That leaves those written in English, and I'll pick Manning again. I like some, not all, of his "Bucolics" I've heard or read -- the first one here is a pretty good one. There are better ones than any of these three. So, #81 wins, for me. The Rumsey poem (#78) mostly annoys me -- it has some good moments but I think it plays around too much in the early going. Boyers (#84) seems to me a "stop and start" poem. Little narrative bits with little lyrical throwaways; the apostrophe to the uncle at the end breaks into a new tone in what seems a gauche way to me. #82, Alexander's, "stops and starts" too, but I like it better (rank it 2nd), especially the part "I longed to be among trees." And the last two lines bring a nice close to it. Goodman (#83) lets me into a little claustrophobic moment but that's about it. It's a bit of the dark Lowellian confessional mode that can be pretty effective, but for some reason I don't believe its pathos, don't find it affecting.