One fine day a few weeks ago, I went to my PO Box and came across a small package of books from a publisher, Oyster River Press, from New Hampshire. Now, I'd never heard of Oyster River, but, upon opening the package, I quickly discovered what I'd been missing!
One book was an anthology of New Hampshire poets against the war, a la Sam Hamill's laudable national project, but the book that caught my eye was a remarkable little anthology of contemporary Swedish women poets, To Catch Life Anew
Let me just sit down and say it: To Catch Life Anew is a really fine book of poems. Translated by Eva Claeson, and published in a facing page English and Swedish format, the book is beautifully designed and produced, and this outward beauty just mirrors the content. As one of the contributors, Barbro Dahlin, writes, "the retina of the soul is thinning" in one's encounters with these poems. They speak eloquently of realities that lie beyond the tried and true, the everyday, the mundane. These poems are small adventures, each and every one of them, transformative, inviting their lucky readers into a sometimes subtle, sometimes brash new way of relating to the world.
But they don't fall into the error that so many translators make of rendering each poem in a uniform voice, so that the work of poet A sounds exactly like that of B, C, etc. I imagine the temptation to push one's own voice and perspective onto a translated work must be very difficult to resist. I salute Claeson for having successfully joined the ranks of the resisters. In To Catch Life Anew the voices of each poet couldn't be more different, and this is solidly demonstrated in the English text.
This poem is by Elisabet Hermodsson, and is called "The Wild Rose Bush:"
The wild rose bush
stripped bare, scrubby and grey
through its lattice work
I can see the original plant
And this is called "The Gate of Night." It's by Margareta Ekstrom.
I close the gate of night
on all my weary hopes.
Sleep now like insects under leaves
and flowers in their hulls
and wind too tired even
to frighten the thin mist
along the stream.
The moon lights a fire on the roof of the barn.
Two gulls roam like lost souls
over the stubble field.
Soon thrushes and sparrows will begin their song,
then all the others will follow.
When the sun reaches my window
my dreams will turn to red.
Then I wake, and hope wakes too.
My longing reaches for the light
breaks open the gate of night.
When I go out
it swings on its creaking hinge
in the sobering wind from the sea.
Yes, you are free to come and to go,
both joy and misery.
÷ ÷ ÷
Three good new books, all very different:
First and foremost, a new book by Gary Snyder's always reason for celebration, and Back on the Fire is no exception. This is a strong collection along Snyder's regular themes. One word of warning, though: most of the essays in this book are relatively short. I mean three to four pages long. This might prove frustrating to people who are used to his meatier work.
I also, and always, celebrate the new Poet Laureate of San Francisco, the bona fide Bolshevik madman, Jack Hirschman. His new book, Only Dreaming Sky is a full frontal assault on all of the expected targets: homelessness, the collapse of socialism, social (in)justice, the death of friends ? but it's also lightened by some incredibly tender love poems.
Lastly, Anselm Hollo's another madman, although hardly a Bolshevik, more of a Han Shan (Cold Mountain) figure. Hollo's new book is called Guests of Space, and consists of sonnets on all sorts of crazy subjects. I don't pretend to understand it, but the sheer disjointed interconnected somersaults of words and fragments and phrases is exhilarating to contemplate.
One last poem, this one from Hirschman:
When Mayakovsky and comrades burned
Shakespeare's books in 1919, there
was no heat, the people were freezing
and starving and tinder and wood were gone.
Altogether different were the Nazi
burnings, or the New York court's,
of the works of Wilhelm Reich,
or the New Mexico state senator's
of chicano Rudolfo Anaya's novel. Those
are gestures of an infamy that
even unexcavated codices, whose hydrocarbons
remember, accuse to infinity.