P L R
PRAGUE LITERARY REVIEW
INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL
Charles Bernstein Anselm Hollo Franz Josef Czernin Cristina Cirstea Kai Nieminen Trevor Joyce Drew Milne Tadeusz Pioro Andrzej Sosnowski Tomaz Salamun Martin Reiner%Pluhacek Odillo Stradicky ze Strdic Jaroslav Pizl John Kinsella David Antin Michel Delville Andrew Norris Louis Armand Alan Sondheim Augusto de Campos Zoe Beloff Munayem Mayenin Oystein Hauge “Wosky” Jeff Buehler Peter Sulej Martin Solotruk Vit Kremlicka Martin Zet Penelope Toomey Sandor Kanyadi Paul Sohar Fritz Widhalm Nichita Danilov Stephen Rodefer Desmond Kon Vincent Farnsworth Rod Mengham Vera Chase Gwendolyn Albert Noelle Perera Robert Gal Keston Sutherland Todd Swift Laura Conway Phil Shoenfelt Vanessa Fernandez Travis Jeppesen Simon Safranek Gaby Bila%Gunther Jaroslav Rudis Alex Svamberk Pavlina Medunova Schloss Tegal
Contents Poetics of Solitude in the Poetry of Dane Zajc Aleš Debeljak 4 Kye Too Lukáš Tomin 5 The Second Book Muharem Bazdulj 8 Oddities Travis Jeppesen & Ahron Weiner 10 A Piece Cheese Joshua Cohen 11 Prague International Poetry Festival, 16$22 May Programme & notes on participants Martin Reiner-Pluháček, Odillo Stradický ze Strdic, Jaroslav Pížl, Martin Zet, Sandor Kanyadi, Fritz Widhalm, Nichita Danilov, Cristina Cirstea, Vincent Farnsworth, Rod Mengham, Vera Chase, Gwendolyn Albert, Róbert Gál, Keston Sutherland, Todd Swift, Laura Conway, Phil Shoenfelt, Vanessa Fernandez, Šimon Šafránek, Gaby BilaGunther, Schloss Tegal, Anselm Hollo, Trevor Joyce, Drew Milne, Tadeusz Pioro, Andrzej Sosnowski, Tomaž Šalamun, Vít Kremlička ... 1
15 Poems + Texts Charles Bernstein 16 Poems Sudeep Sen 17 Poems Kai Nieminen 18 Elements, Sonnets Franz Josef Czernin 21 Ham and Squeek to Go Stephen Rodefer 21 The Raven at the End of the World: Anselm Hollo’s Danger$ ous Language Patrick Pritchett 22 Tactical Realities McKenzie Wark 22 Allegories of Language Donald F. Theall 22 Shifting Senisibilities: from In$ Yer$Face to Temptation briefly ... Clare Wallace 24 Letter from X Adrian Hornsby
... PLR ..... volume 2 issue 3
PRAGUE LITERARY REVIEW Publisher Editor Associate Editors Editorial Advisors Design Technical Support Distribution
Roman Kratochvíla Louis Armand Aleš Debeljak, Drew Milne, Howard Sidenberg, DJ Huppatz Clare Wallace, Joshua Cohen, Travis Jeppesen lazarus Radim Ševčík Odysseus
The PLR is owned and published by Vršovický Ezop, o.s., Krymská 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic. The opinions expressed in these pages are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor, publisher or advertisers. Contents copyright © 2004 by Vršovický Ezop, o.s. All rights revert to authors on publication. Please send subscription, advertising, or submission queries to email@example.com, or to the PLR, Krymská 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic. Tel./Fax: +420 271740839. Visit our website at www.shakes.cz/plr ISSN 121462777
Poetics of Solitude in the Poetry of Dane Zajc It was a pleasant May afternoon in the late 1990s. Intimations of summer in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, were already visible. Fresh air languidly rose up from the slow-flowing green river and enveloped the old city quarter under the medieval castle in the promise of things to come. The improvised gardens in front of the restaurants had emerged only days before. Sun rays revived the memories of a bygone bourgeois time, locked in the cobblestoned streets that had been laid out during the long reign of the Viennese royal house of Habsburg, the dynasty that traditionally ruled the Slovenian lands until its empire disintegrated at the end of the World War I. Slovenia and its people, however, have persisted in this patch of Europe, wedged between the Alps and the Mediterranean, between the Balkan mountains and the vast Hungarian plains. Dane Zajc and I sat in front of a popular sidewalk cafe, “Nostalgia,” sipping cappuccino and enjoying long silences in our meandering conversation. The glaring sun of summer was not yet the order of the day. No need, then, for sunglasses. They remained in their quivers on the table. From time to time, Dane’s restless hands, speckled with the brown spots of a man in his early seventies, would come to rest on the top of the table; from time to time toying with the case. Then they would just as suddenly retreat to a pyramid of his long fingers. Dane Zajc is the greatest living Slovenian poet not only according to the professional opinion but also according to general popular consensus, a combination that is extremely difficult to attain in matters of literature. I daresay, alas, that the youngsters passing by before us do not know that, even though their parents might, just might. Slovenian cultural tradition was largely designed by writers, men of letters, guardians of national language and its everyday experience. If an artist today wants to reach an audience wider than interpreters of useless words, humanities students and other poets, however, he must subjugate his creative neuroses to the demands of the consumer market. He must transform his words into a conveniently formulaic wisdom that can be compressed into a happy soundbite with which Eastern European countries have, for better and worse, become increasingly familiar since the “velvet revolutions” of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dane Zajc was born too early for this particular form of subjugation, in 1929. He spent the first fourteen years of his life in a remote village in the Slovenian mountains. During the Second World War, German occupying soldiers burnt his family home to the ground. As an occasional courier for the Partisan resistance, Zajc did descend to the valley, but he spent most of the time working a miserable plot of a vegetable garden to help his family survive: a family that lost its two elder sons to the war. The intimate world of the young poet was thoroughly defined by the experience of nature and violence. It might have been an education of sorts, but it was certainly not a sentimental one. His work, on the other hand, was not divorced from sentimental influences, though Zajc was able to fence off a stifling dependence on his early inspiration. In addition to Slovenian writers, the formative sources of Zajc’s
poetic work were Russians. Russians, Russians. No wonder: Slovenia was until 1991, when it attained a full-fledged independence, a part of Yugoslavia, a patchwork of diverse peoples, cultures, languages, and religions that its unchallenged leader, Marshal Tito, controlled with the cunning mind of a grand diplomat and with the iron hand of a communist despot. The eastward-looking orientation of Tito’s imperium left a deep mark on the postwar generation of writers who were not only isolated from democracy and capitalism but also from Anglo-American aesthetics. In their youths, the generation that Dane Zajc belonged to, learned instead the poems of Jesenin and Pushkin by heart. Lermontov and his stormy romantic exaltation, his sentimental pessimism, his rapturous sensuality: all of these aesthetic forces shot into Zajc like a bolts of lightening during the decade spanning the late forties and early fifties. In the darkly sensuous work of Salzburg pharmacist, George Trakl, and in the urban elegies of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, Zajc later discovered a strange and beautiful horror that made his lifelong association with the voiceless people possible. “There was only enough room left for Anna Akhmatova and the uncompromising poetry of witness,” said Zajc and took a long drag on his cigarettet. He discovered the ingenious Vladimir Khlebnikov (whose trans-rational language would have such a decisve influence on the early avant-garde revolt of yet another Slovenian living legend, Tomaž Šalamun) too late to leave a lasting mark on his poetic work. So I can only nod when Dane, in response to my question, provides me with a catalogue of his favourite film directors. From the shockingly poetic Luis Bunuel and the multiple melancholic mirrors of Andrej Tarkovsky, to the documentary sharpness of Italian neo-realists, to the carnal knowledge of Federico Fellini, to the repressed passions in the opus of Ingmar Bergman. The roster is, I suppose, fairly predictable. Dane Zajc, after all, came of age in the era when Stetson hats and silk stockings, Montgomery raincoats and gas-powered cigarette lighters were smuggled in from Italy only to represent precious goods on the black market of consumer items that the Communist party saw as examples of corrupting “Western decadence.” It was somewhat easier to breathe in the cultural sphere, especially since the early sixties on. Not only did the Ljubljana art houses roll obligatory weekly propaganda reels but also serious artistic films by contemporary West and East European directors. Thus the Communist party catered to the appetite of the masses hungry for novelty and widened the horizons of youthful audiences who were not fed on a diet of industrially-produced American dreams as they are today. This was one of the curious benefits of a life under soft communism that former Yugoslavia specialised in. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, however, we love and hate under a canopy of illusions about democracy and the freedom of “the end of history.” In this context, we have ceased to mockingly laugh at the aesthetics of social realism because its working class heroism has become so hopelessly passé. At the same time, we seem to be closing our eyes before the waves of aggressive corporate advertising and its sublime aesthetics of the organic harmony and attractive shape, the signature component of capitalist realism. This is arguably even more pernicious than socialist realism, its outdated counterpart, which up through the 1960s was the enforced aesthetic orthodoxy of the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe. Capitalist realism insinuates itself into the minds of consumers as it beguiles them, with increasing success, into replacing any meditation on the beautiful, the true and the good with the enjoyment of beautiful consumer goods. In the process it turns into commodities not only the products themselves but the mental frame within which the enjoyment of them takes place. The most this illusion can do is provide a formal fascination, which can no longer be compelling on an existential level. If you want to retreat before this unceasing flow of images, music and words to the temporary haven of art, you must today voluntarily isolate yourself in order to obtain a moment for contemplation, perhaps even hoping for a grace of epiphany.
In the political sphere, Yugoslav communists have not experienced epiphanies. It was rather a pragmatic move that made them recognise the need for relative independence of the artistic imagination in the wake of the self-preserving break with Stalin in 1948. As a communist country it participated in adaptation of the original primacy of ideology over economic mechanisms of the market. Yet, standing emphatically outside the soviet Warsaw Pact, the epitome of the sinister “East,” Yugoslavia was forced to flirt with the structures of democratic capitalism and become more like “the West.” Consequently, the Yugoslav communists revoked the so-called theory of the “Partisan birch-tree.” This theory demanded of an artist to include in each and every artwork a reference to the ideological narrative of a proletarian revolution and the national liberation that was, in this story, solely the result of the communist leadership. Hence, even such an innocuous artistic genre as landscape painting had to contain a birch tree under which a Partisan fighter could rest, revealing thus the artist’s commitment to the red horizons of communist utopia. The authorities explicitly recognised aesthetic autonomy in 1958, though they have applied it in an admittedly selective manner. That was the year that Dane Zajc finally succeeded in publishing his first book of poetry—Burnt Grass—although the printing was undertaken at his own expense. The book itself, while not officially banned, was next to impossible to obtain.
Dane Zajc had no desire to close his eyes to the fruit of the totalitarian barren harvest. In his verses, he confirmed the primacy of an individual over the collective and summoned a sense of human mortality in order to combat the Potemkin villages of communism. Not only in aesthetic terms, but also in terms of moral opposition, Dane Zajc was engaged in the struggle against the dictates of the regime. Zajc’s growing distance from the Yugoslav government of “workers, farmers and honest intellectuals” was tangibly spelled out in 1951, when he spent three months in jail. Zajc had performed at a public literary reading, a zealous informant having reported his alleged antiregime pronouncements. Zajc, branded a “verbal delinquent,” was sentenced to one month of solitary confinement before being transfered to the common prison. At that time, Zajc’s political stigmatisation should have earned him a trip to Naked Island, Tito’s transplantation of a Stalinist gulag to a rocky island in the Adriatic Sea. Zajc’s mother, a simple peasant, had long maintained a stoic silence. But when Zajc was imprisoned, she walked to the headquarters of the political police in the centre of Ljubljana. Somehow she found her way to those in charge; she banged her fist on the table and said: I’ve already given you two sons, I won’t give you a third, Zajc told me and took another sip from a cold cappuccino. I offered him another cigarette and for a while we silently watched the schoolgirls and rare tourists making their way past the “Nostalgia” cafe. Zajc was ultimately not sent off to the labour camp. But he was thrown out of high-
school and sent to the military service where he spent two long years in the olive green uniform of the people’s army. After he got out, Dane Zajc helped to found an important cultural journal, Revija 57. It was an explosive and provoking periodical, introducing then-subversive existentialism into the Slovenian public sphere. It didn’t last long. However, even after 1964, when the communist authorities banned yet another dissident magazine, Perspektive, Dane Zajc did not relent. He had to wait, though, until the death of Tito in 1980. The volatile political conditions were then sufficiently relaxed to allow for the New Review monthly publication which Dane Zajc helped establish. It was a forum for the dissidents’ critique of the regime and for an intellectual nationalism which played a decisive role in creating the foundation for an independent Slovenian state. At the end of the 1980s, Zajc recognised the increased relevance of civil disobedience, having participated in the oppositional Commission for Human Rights, in numerous demonstrations and at protest readings at the Association of Slovenian Writers; events designed to radically challenge communist grip on power. Shadows over our table grew longer. The air turned chill and Zajc grew silent again. While his habit of silence may be annoying for the interviewer, it is an inspiration for reveries. Alone in my thoughts, I conjured up an image from the archive of my personal memory. What did I see? I saw the dimmed hall of the France Prešeren Club in the Ljubljana neighbourhood of Trnovo (KUD, as this alternative performance place is popularly known). It really appears, despite the addition of new velvet curtains, like what it once was: a stage for amateurs. There is something noble in this cultural background, as amateurs perform for the love of the thing itself as etymology suggests, rather than for a professional success and other trappings of the market. In this regard, poetry is liberatingly amateur-bound. Hovering above the squeaky wooden chairs of the front row, I saw the faces of excited poets who have gathered to see the greatest of the great in our literary tribe. Photographers crouch before the low stage. In the jam-packed hall, an audience of more than one-hundred and fifty sip beer, smoke and wait patiently. It is April 1994 and finally evenings of live poetry have resumed at the KUD. To describe this particular performance, the Slovenian language is most appropriate in its denial of distinction between a song (that comes from a throat) and a poem (that lies written on a blank page). In English, two different words set up a barrier between the two different concepts and, ultimately, between the experience of two different worlds; in Slovenian, it is the same word. Dane Zajc and Janez Škof: Recital for Poetic Words and Accordion. Two bodies, one world, a broken barrier. In the magical circle that the two performers invisibly draw through the air of the theatre hall, a recognition of pain was slowly born. The poetic works of Dane Zajc emerged as the symbol of a wound, a wound inflicted by man’s indebtedness to his own death. What is repressed in a human being as a mortal creature, is returning in the language of human being as a lethal creature. As Zajc shudderingly reveals in the poem Barren Harvest, violence is the primordial truth of the world and at the same time its fundamental metaphor. Zajc’s poetic description of the horror of his brother’s death is one of the political reasons why he could not bring out his first collection with an official Slovenian publishing house. That the revolution in the name of which communists justified the death of so many partisan fighters and civilians, might indeed prove to be but a compromised barren harvest, unworthy of immense suffering: such a conclusion was simply not tenable to the arrogant all-powerful authorities. Here, then, is a part of his poem that has entered a public vocabulary in Dane’s home country: I recognise his skull, mother said, by its beautiful white teeth. Beautiful white teeth biting into the soil, beautiful brown eyes filled with soil, strong white bones (continued on page 10)
LUKAS TOMIN Born in Prague in 1963, Lukáš Tomin spent his adolescence in the dissident community of the 1970s. Denied access to secondary education at age fifteen, he took part in the numerous underground seminars and exchanges characteristic of opposition life and had his first works published in samizdat. In 1980 his family emigrated to England where he studied at St. Edward’s School, Oxford and the University of London. From 1985 to 1987 Tomin alternately lived in Paris, where he wrote The Doll, London and Montreal. In 1991 he returned to Prague where he resided until his suicide in 1995, regularly contributing to Czech literary periodicals and journals. His three novels, The Doll, Ashtrays and Kye, are published by Twisted Spoon Press. Kye Too represents the last known writings of Tomin, anticipated as a “sequel” to Kye. Kye is in many ways the sequel to Ashtrays, Tomin’s previous novel. Set in Paris, Ashtrays is the narrative of a tempestuous Czech artist living off the generosity of his lover, struggling with a desire for fame and the alienation of his exile. Repetitive passage through the streets of Paris and recounting of events and disruptions of daily life are periodically broken by lyrical sequences where fantasy and recollection are combined. Writing in an adopted tongue marked by both his native Czech and the French of his setting, Tomin forges an English that is rhythmic, mobile, energetic, and often sharply humorous. In this language, the extremes of the material and spiritual worlds collide and intersect, creating a space of extreme reality which directly confronts the mundane. In Kye, rather than Paris, the setting is London, where the organism senses it is out of balance and is acutely aware of its decay. Euphoria has long passed as Kye is unable to break the inertia of his drinking and unfulfilled sexual fantasies. Gradually overcome by his impotence to act decisively, Kye reflects on all that was left and lost “back there.” Fay Weldon described Tomin’s first novel, The Doll, as: “A visionary work, by an extraordinary and important young writer. As cultures and languages mix and merge, Tomin meets the subsequent literary challenge head on, and actually makes this reader hopeful about the future of the Novel.” David Auerbach, writing in Rain Taxi, described The Doll (Twisted Spoon’s very first publication) as “extreme.” “Tomin leaves his characters half-drawn for much of the book, forcing the reader to puzzle out the connections and distinctions between them. His drastic switches of style abandon cumulative effect for a series of instants, sometimes with heavily compressed plotting or circular passages of dialogue. … The novel seeks to jolt with its odd narrative rhythms, making it a rare contemporary update of the surrealist novels of Breton and Pinget. Tomin grew up in a dissident family under one of the harshest periods of communist rule, and wrote The Doll in his second language, English, as an émigré in Paris. He steadfastly refuses to ground his prose in a comfortable fictional environment, just as he refused to ground it in the comfort of his native language.”
When he dealt with his dreams, it was good. Kye sat next to me, hanging his head low, saying. When I dealt with my dreams, it was good. When I was becoming a preacher, for instance. Or later a priest. I had visions then, too. He had visions and they were not all of becoming. Even though mostly. Sometimes they were visions simply contemplated. Meditated rarely upon. Not enough patience. There seemed to be a life to live then, too. Up ahead. Smells and such. Sights. Touches. Even hearing a little though not much talent for. Mother said. Ah, mother. Mother was good to him. Mother was a woman. At first only she was that. Later of course and so on. Touches of a different kind. There seemed to be a life to live. Oh, yes. But father’s touches. Oh, no. Were not so pleasant. Portended what was to come. Portended death. And yet, oh boy, and yet. Love? Dark was about to fall when Kye alighted from the hitched car that went on to the island of Anglesea, in the dark Welsh mountains of Snowdonia. The sun, surprisingly enough in those cloudy regions, set visibly. He turned his back upon it and went east, a direction long scorned. The path on the ground responded to the path on the map. A creek running from the nearby ridges bubbled a discreet welcome. Kye walked up against the stream, heavy with the burden of canned meats. Sheep on the valley slopes, mainly to the left. Also a couple of shepherds. Or perhaps a shepherd and a shepherdess, hard to tell in the increasing dusk. Kye had an irrational fear of dogs at the time, and was therefore more afraid of the sheepdogs than of the shepherds. Even though the shepherds hollered. Whether they hollered at Kye or at the sheep or at the dogs was hard to tell in the increasing dusk. To be on the safe side, Kye waved. At the dogs, the shepherds, the sheep. A waving from the shepherds came back and a barking from the dogs. Fear assuaged. Now possible to concentrate on the rocky path and on the tips of boots. Necessary to concentrate on the rocky path and on the tips of boots for the weight of the rucksack. Apart from the canned meats a sleeping bag and a tent and a book. And a torch to read the book in the dark. And a little gas stove to warm the meats on when no firewood in sight. The lack of it very probable heather being the only population of fixed growth in these parts. Also tea to warm for nightly vigils but tea was not heavy. Suddenly the path was no longer a path but a river of rocks. Boulders to climb. Necessary to use both hands now and to foot firmly. The valley ending. The stream was a trickle now visible only sporadically as it wedged its way back to its source. Kye was tired now, oblivious of the brightening stars and the obscuring sky. With a last effort he heaved up his upper body over a stone and his hands and his face and his neck felt moss. He lay like that, breathing hard, legs dangling in the air. Then, snakelike, he brought his lower body in line with his upper and lay there again, breathing hard, his hands and his face and his neck stung by gravel. He rolled over on one side, wriggled out of the straps. He lay again on his belly, breathing less hard, hearing his heart less. He doubled up like a muslim praying, not looking up. He knelt heels still touching bum ecumenically and saw walls of mountains rising sharp above him. He had arrived.
Sitting in front of his flimsy tent he thought of possible storms. Blown off like a rag at night when powerless over pastures and towerless villages into the cold north-western sea. Perhaps somewhere off the coast of Anglesea his kind driver would fish him out. Warming his hands clutching a cup of hot tea Kye thought this would not be so bad. To be rescued. But then again no catastrophe yet in sight so hardly likely. He thought nevertheless that it would be nice to be rescued from this darkness. From this loneliness he had imposed on himself. From this fear. From this silence. He opened the book. He held the book open with one hand, holding the torch in the other. But he could not read it. Black letters merged on the white page and their shadow and that on the mountains overpowered his will. He crawled into the tent, into the sleeping bag, shut his eyes, and could not sleep. He opened his eyes, opened the sack, took out his knife. With a knife beside him he felt safer and he lay down again and shut his eyes and could not sleep. With a knife beside him he felt threatened. Putting it back into its sheath he placed it by the entrance where his feet were. He lay down again and shut his eyes and could not sleep. The knife right by the entrance what if a shepherd . Or worse. Like a snake like an awkward worm he wormed his way around the canvas walls of the tent. Now head towards the air unzip the door. Better. But then if anybody a kick in the head does it. He didn’t shut his eyes he stared at the stars he didn’t sleep if someone from the top would do it. He snaked awkwardly wormed his way out of the bag, put on an extra jumper put on a jacket put on a woolly hat put on boots went outside. He didn’t switch on the torch he didn’t open the book he didn’t read it. He sat on a stone in front of the tent he stared at the stars. He stared at the mountains he stared into the valley. He knew mountain goats he remembered mountain goats he was not afraid of mountain goats they were
not here. They were in the High Tatras. Here he was told were wild horses. He loved horses he could ride horses these were wild horses. Are you not afraid of wild horses he asked himself and others for then he still believed in that. In the questioning of others. There were no others of course that night but what if. He sat on a stone he was cold sitting on a stone he brought the sleeping bag from out of the tent wrapped himself in it. No longer cold he stared into the valley. He saw a ghost. He rode it.
The year was 1963. A year of killings. Like 1993 or 1994. Or any of the years in between. He plomped out of his mother’s belly and pissed on the Universe. Then he started to cry. Remembering his past he composed himself and fell asleep. Did he dream. Towards midday he woke up and looked at the cots around him. Not a single soul to talk to. Shutting his eyes again he reflected. Must this be? Then he started to cry. Remembering his past he composed himself and opened his eyes. It must? Still unsure he shat on it to add a concrete proof. The stench and the warmth told him it had to be. And the nurse’s spank and the nurse’s curse.
Oh but the question why was high on the agenda. Oh but so low on the answers. In the past, he remembered, he had asked the same question. This question is low on answers, my boy, he was told then, by another mother. Don’t bother. Why, he said then, when I have to lie here and cry and piss and shit without a soul to talk to? Don’t bother, she said to him then and was kind to him and made him suck her breast. He was glad of this and didn’t bother for then. For the length of the sucking. And then when he’d sucked enough she told him you’ll see you’ll forget once you get out of here and have souls to talk to. Until you have to suck again. But maybe she didn’t tell him that last thing maybe he just knew when it started to suck. With the first changed nappies he began to lose lucidity. Independence of thought soon followed. He became a baby. Life as a baby wasn’t too bad. Judging at least from what they told him about it. Grinning mostly. Grinning with mummy mostly in the photos, with auntie, with grandma. Not grinning mostly with daddy, with grandpa. Grinning or not grinning by the sea, in the fields, in the woods. With or without other babies. When with other babies an embarrassed expression the norm. If not downright hostile. When for example a bucket of blueberries between him and the other. With the other with an out-stretched hand offering peace. Later he was a child, of course. The year was 1968. The grinning had stopped. Kye is a retard, Christian said to Samuel, he can’t even speak Czech. This was when the tanks had ceased to be amusing. He’s an American retard and a hippy. This was when long hair had to be cut. This was when long hair became imperialist. And the teacher became our comrade. Long sandy beaches. Hawaii. Happiness in clean warm blue seas. Sharks behind reefs. Father away lecturing. Cute baby brother safe in pram. Playing Spadla lžička do kafíčka with beautiful young mother. /Spadla lžička do kafíčka, udělala žbluňk, is a Czech game involving mother and son holding hands, jumping up and down in shallow water, then suddenly squatting, thereby immersing themselves totally or almost. It can be great fun./ The envy of the shores. Then off to eat pistachio ice cream. Then off to eat pineapple pizza. He was able to eat then no problem. Driving in a white impala off to eat all that. With mother beautiful at the wheel and with brother cute in his pram at the back. Life was no problem then and you didn’t have to wear any seatbelts either. You could just drive around like that smiling at people. Or you could pop over to the jungle for a while and impress people by swinging on the lianas. And you could have Hawaiian friends and you could have Italian American friends and you could have a black American nurse. Kye didn’t have a black American nurse but he knew he could have one if he’d wanted to. And you went to school and the teacher was called Mrs Appau and it was fun and the teacher was not a comrade but she was almost a friend. And you could run around the class and paint pictures on the walls. Even if you couldn’t paint you could do it. And you could lie down on the floor and kick the air. And you could sing. He liked a girl called Sonia. But Sonia was the daughter of comrade deputy directress. On the way to lunch one day he sang her a song called Beautiful Lotty. Everybody laughed. Sonia turned purple and ran off to tell comrade mother. Sonia was blonde. Lotty in the song was black as boots. Perhaps that’s why. Kye cried. Grand Canyon. Kye cried in front on everyone and was laughed at. He was not tough. He ran from the classroom and from the school building into the park. He wished he was a dog. A little dog like the one with a loving mistress who would give him sweets. But he was just a little guy alone in the world and it was windy and dust got into his eyes and made him cry. And the loving mistress came up and shook him by the shoulders and kicked him in the ankle and told him he should be in school at this time of the day and not bother decent old folk like her with little dogs on walks at this hour of the day on
the park can they never get any peace. And Kye ran from the mistress deep into the park and found a hollow tree and hid in it. Everything was huge and awesome, and golden and full of promise. The Colorado river was a trickle. Father was handsome in his white cowboy hat and in his denim jacket and in his denim trousers and in his boots. He carried mother from rock to rock. He was the perfect cowboy gentleman with the perfect cowboy lady. Mother had a lovely cowboy hat made of straw. Mother had long long hair that reached to her bum and shone in the sun. Mother didn’t have boots. Mother wore hippy jeans. She was not the perfect cowboy lady then, after all. But then father wore glasses. Did cowboys wear glasses I doubt it. Certainly not this shape. Kye didn’t wear glasses. But he wore a white cowboy hat like his father. He was the most perfect of them all. Sing a song in the hollow tree. Up by the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Monument other nationals danced behind bars. Feathered. These were the aboriginal peoples. These were the original inhabitants of the North American continent. People threw them money. Sing a sad one. Everything was huge and hot and awesome, and golden and full of promise. New York. Too young to remember much from that. The Empire State Building and ants down below. The Buffalo Bill restaurant and his birthday and father screaming for the cost. Or was that Frisco? No, Frisco was the Wooden Indian and the Wooden Sailor. And the cold wind and the new blue hooded windproof jacket he liked so much and was later ashamed of. And the black sand on the beach with Maldoror too close for comfort. Or was that. He was too young. Too young to sing a sad song in a hollow tree.
He left America in the tree, peeled her off snakelike, left her there to rot. He practised remembering his Czech and forgetting his English. He practised his accent, hardened it, udded the a’s and egged the e’s. Rolled the r’s like an opera singer, shortened everything, flattened everything. Changed his skin. Became a Pioneer. Red scarf round neck and Sonia in heart. Learned Russian. Was good at it. Began to charm comrade deputy directress. Comrade deputy directress was also the Russian teacher. At least as far as I could tell. Then. He spoke to her in Russian to charm her. To charm her to charm her daughter. It worked. Until. Until father the philosopher was proclaimed an imperialist agent and went to work at the turbines. Aristotle and Plato were imperialist agents. Father was an imperialist agent, too. Then Sonia stopped talking to him stopped seeing him stopped listening to his songs. Hey, Sonia, but I am a Red Pioneer, like you are. I wear a red scarf and I know Russian and I stand guard by the monuments to our glorious dead. Yeah, but your father is an imperialist agent. But Sonia. Mummy says so. And mummy knows. And mummy says we oughtn’t see each other any more. See? Father, why are you an imperialist agent? I mean I am a Red Pioneer, I wear a red scarf and a badge, see? Why do you work at the turbines, dad? Why do you read Aristotle and Plato when you work at the turbines, dad? Don’t hit me, dad. Are you a bad man, dad? I mean why do you have all those books in English and Greek and Latin, dad? Comrade deputy directress says that. And Sonia. Sonia is her daughter. I like Sonia very much. Don’t hit me. Why do you work at the turbines, dad? Why did we go to America? Where are you going, dad, say something, hit me. Dad. Father went out for a walk, banging shut the door behind him. He did that when he needed to calm his nerves, or to think. He did it several times a day. He did it in the night, too. He walked with hands clasped behind his back, leaning forward. With eyes firmly set on the path ahead he never looked around to see. With ears blocked by inner humming he never turned around to hear. With a frown that frightened children and disconcerted adults he ploughed his way to the river.
MUHAREM BAZDULJ Muharem Bazdulj was born in 1977, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and lives in Travink. His books include two collections of short stories, One Like a Song (1999) and Druga knjiga (The Second Book) (2000), both from Bosanska knjiga. Druga knjiga won the Soros Foundation-Open Society award for the best short story collection in 1999. His work has appeared in Reporter and Lica Magazine and in the Croatian weekly, Feral Tribune. An English translation of The Second Book is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press (August 2004). The Second Book is described by the publisher as: An award-winning collection of stories from a promising young Bosnian writer. The protagonists of The Second Book, are connected vertically and horizontally by their struggles. Nietzsche, on the edge of madness, spends a number of mornings contemplating his sweeping ideas and the tiny details of life through hazes left by “the gluey fingers of sleep.” In “The Hot Sun’s Golden Circle,” the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, discoverer of monotheism, embarks on a search for the only true god of Egypt. Bazdulj’s charming and funny “The Story of Two Brothers” examines the lives of William and Henry James from the shadows of the Old Testament and the age-old archetype of conflict between an eldest brother and the “maladjusted impracticality” of the younger. Muharem Bazdulj has broken from the pack of new Eastern European writers influenced by innovators such as Danilo Kiš, Milan Kundera, and Jorge Luis Borges. Employing a light touch, a daring anti-nationalist tone, and the kind of ambition that inspires nothing less than a rewriting of Bosnian and Yugoslavian history, Bazdulj weaves the imagined realities of history into fiction and fiction into history. To quote one critic, for Bazdulj history “is the sum of interpretations while imagination is the sum of facts.”
Koncert, Bazdulj’s most recent book, was published in 2003 by VBZ (Zagreb).
The Second Book Thus there are two bookes from whence I coolect my Divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant Nature, that universall and publik Manuscript, that lies expans’d unto the eyes of all; those that never saw him in the first, have discovered him in the second. —Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici
The mass of mystifications that surrounded the persona of Ian Tishri during his life grew rapidly and significantly after his death on December 27, 1990. What follows is merely the result of a desire to finally tell the truth, the truth that both the classical writers and Ian Tishri’s beloved Schopenhauer took to be the only motive for their own writing. It should be said immediately that the responsibility for the large number of aforementioned untruths
lies in the eternal human temptation to blacken a dead man in a low and undignified way, thereby attempting to deny his last wish which so perfectly and with such terrifying consistency emanates from the course of his entire life. Ian Tishri, even at the moment of death, remained loyal to the ideal to which he had devoted his life. Here in a short and concise way, I will try to recount the facts about the life of Ian Tishri, a life in which loyalty and devotion to capricious and concrete readings of certain modern amphibolia were the inseparable companions of an always restless and curious spirit. Ian Tishri was born on the May 1, 1922, in New York as the first and only child of a strange and unusual marriage. The only thing that connected the families of his parents was wealth. It must have been that the red-haired goddess of irony was godmother to this fusion of the huge estate of the Jewish bankers Tishri and the fabulous estate of the Irish factory owning Fitzpatricks. And the only heir to this inexhaustible Semitic-Celtic treasury would be born on the proletarian holiday. It is unknown where, when, or how David Tishri and Beatrice Fitzpatrick started to fancy each other, but it is totally clear that their sullen and unhealthy passion did not belong to the snobby bloodless beds of deliberation and calculation. And although both families had fantasized about the fusion of their own estate with another equally valuable one, this was not the fusion they had desired. Nevertheless, the young spouses—despite their lyrical ostentation and their refusal to make economic judgments about love—created an empire as a by-product of their love. Ian Tishri would come onto the world’s stage as a prince. Neither David nor Beatrice was an only child, but the dishevelled mane of all-mighty chance would make them the legatees of two rivers of treasure, rivers that many generations of their predecessors had filled up with a Tigris and Euphrates of sweat, rivers that would merge in Ian into a Shat Al-Arab. David’s brother Abraham would die at age seventeen of tuberculoses, like Michael Furey, while Beatrice’s brother James, the only male Fitzpatrick, like some Kabalist, would turn his back on the world, and after completing theological studies would be ordained and return to his historical homeland to study the Bible in some isolated monastery. A mélange of certain fragments from Schopenhauer’s and Freud’s systems could perhaps best interpret the progress of David’s and Beatrice’s marriage. After the instinct of the species had been satisfied, David found a new investment of libido in business. Passion turned into an average and prosaic marriage. Paraphrasing Freud, I also touched Ian’s tribe on his father’s side; in order not to short-change the maternal component of his blood line, I will mention one Irishman who, on the occasion of the collapse of his, as well as any other, love, would say: to love oneself is the only true romance. But, like the world itself, love ends not with a bang but with a whimper. And in the context of everyday life a whimper is more pleasant and closer to happiness than any sort of bang. Though it seems paradoxical, the Tishris’ marriage was happy, because generally passion is not the foundation of a happy marriage. It is torment, fervour, passion; and a marital bed needs to be like an olive trunk planted in the soil, it needs to be made of such a tree, and to be immovable. Ian Tishri had a happy childhood nicely spiced with that Kunderaesque metaphor about the melancholy of a child without a brother. Such a child plays with the world. A true game requires seriousness: in order to play with something, first we need to get to know and to unmask that something (whatever it is). That is why all the innumerable anecdotes about Ian’s earliest childhood contain this moment of desire to learn about the things of this world. The theme and subject of all of these childhood happenings are not some exotic actions. In essence, they are an ordinary child’s snivels characteristic of a young human. Because childhood is a period of metaphysical equality: a time in which poverty and wealth are equally shiny, a time of the short lived triumph of learning over owning. Though, somewhat later, the desire to own can hardly be ignored. But this desire is generally motivated by lack.
For Ian, ownership was something natural and he reached knowledge through play. It is not my intention here to create a chronicle of the lives of the wealthy in New York in the thirties at the time of Ian’s early youth and farewell to childhood. That ambience is close to the spirit of Fitzgerald’s novels: the jazz age, beau monde, drinking parties, travels, soirees, splendour, and extravagance. And although both branches of Ian’s ancestors belonged to the conservative edges of their community circles, he fell into a whirlwind of youth that did not pay attention to ancestors and ancestry and was interested only in money, be it aristocratic or new, Jewish-Catholic or WASP. David and Beatrice Tishri, spouses who were a product of a somewhat Blakian marriage of the New and Old Testaments, themselves knew the adolescent inclination to defy authority, just as they knew the parable of the prodigal son. So Ian’s excesses were financed, and his behaviour was not even the subject of his parents’ criticism. With some inherent subtle sensitivity his parents knew and felt that the power of rebellion grows stronger if it is banned and that the shine in an adolescent’s eyes, like the shine of a light bulb, is most often powered by the energy created by damming the natural flow of a river or of life. And so Ian drank insatiably from the source of world, but he became thirstier and thirstier. Because, the water of this world is seawater and it does not quench thirst. The sun of war shone upon the sea of Ian’s life in his twentieth year. Water evaporated, disappeared: only sediment, essence, and salt remained. Ian voluntarily joined the military in a desire to exchange the snobbish spritzer of sweet life for true undiluted wine. His parents saw in this decision the unwanted fulfilment of their prophecy. Tired of laxity and weak will Ian was searching for toughness and discipline. Thirty-six days after his twenty-second birthday, on the renowned D-day, which in its numerical form contains an incomplete symbol of the devil, the devil’s number, Ian stepped on the European soil for the first time, leaving the imprints of his boots in the sand of Normandy’s beaches. Then it was he discovered that blood is salty, like seawater. Precisely a year after the famous D-day he returned home. The war was as senseless as drinking parties. Everything had remained the same in New York. It seemed that everyone was still drinking the same cocktail they had started five years before. Ian was not able to orient himself at the parties of his former friends: he who does not get drunk on wine, throws up from spritzers. In the fall of the following year David and Beatrice could have acted the role of Hamlet in two parts: O my prophetic soul! Ian Tishri enrolled in a university to study French and Italian. But he must soon have recognized that if anything is truly far from real knowledge and mastery in any field then it is sugary college melodramatics. Schopenhauer would later confirm that. He left the university and spent the following few months trying to fit into the mould that destiny had picked for him. But those twenty or so weeks during which he worked with his father, and for the first time interested himself in all those different deals that occurred under his family name, brought him the knowledge that a modern business empire is similar to a constitutional monarchy: an owner, like a king, is just a name. And money is in some sense like an atomic bomb: the requisite amount or critical mass makes quality from quantity, and then the reaction continues by itself. It is difficult to say whether Ian had ever seriously thought of devoting himself to the conventional career of inheritor, but the fact is that during this business apprenticeship of his, he also showed an interest in some marriage based on interest. It is more probable that these were just a series of unsuccessful attempts to find a taste of love in some standard and old-fashioned relationship, a taste he had searched for in vain in the fast life of his crazy youth. But it seems that for him the storm of romantic passion and the lee of the marriage bed were just two faces of the same cheap coin: copper covered in fake gold. Anyway, one day Ian peeled off the face of convention just as he had removed his uniform with the arrival of peace. At the age of twenty-six Ian seemed to return to childhood. But the real things his small hands had reached for in childhood were re-
placed now with various abstract concepts. And who knows, perhaps his whole life could have been just a series of fruitless and cheap false exaltations lasting on average three days each, if one of his first interests had not been genealogy. Inquiring about his ancestors and relatives, he found out the name of his uncle for the first time. Because the family had never mentioned James Fitzpatrick. His search for God and his particular mysticism were considered by the Fitzpatrick family to be worse, more shameful, and more suspect than open atheism, though the family proudly declared itself Catholic. Ian’s passion to meet his uncle was partially inspired by their great physical similarity. The only photograph that Beatrice Tishri had of her brother showed him at age twenty, and if his frock had been replaced by a uniform, the photo could with equal probability have been of Ian from his military days. But for almost thirty years there had been no word from James. In 1920 he had sailed for Ireland with the intention of immuring himself in some monastery. On March 12, 1949, Ian Tishri boarded a ship sailing for Ireland. He went to look for his uncle. The whole adventure bore a certain primordial air, an odour of foggy essence, almost classical. Because Ian had been in permanent crisis, a crisis of meaning and identity, since the puberty. In its very breadth, all the variety of his life, all the wealth of his experience, hid cracks and fissures. He understood the search for his uncle as a peculiar initiation rite, as some mixture of a bar mitzvah and a sacrament in accordance with his background, as the twelve labours of Hercules or the quest for the Golden Fleece, as some kind of imprimatur, as an exam of maturity and worthiness, as a metaphysical graduation. He would tell his uncle his whole life, admit everything to him as he would to himself, he would empty in front of him all the gold of his own soul to the last lump as in an intimate diary, he would confess to him as to a brother, to a stranger, to an uncle, to a grave, to a priest in the end, and he would ask for an answer as if from the Pythian oracle, from the stars, or from coffee grounds. Everything that is possible occurs; only the impossible occurs—thus says an apocryphal aphorism of Kafka’s, which, unbidden, answers the implied question: How was it possible for Ian to find his uncle? Because, truly, accident and fate conspired and Ian found Father James, who was already well known in the Mayo district quite quickly. He lived and prayed in Ballintubber abbey in Clare Morris. This abbey was founded in 1216 by Cathal Crobhdearg O’Connor, King of Connacht, and it is the oldest active abbey in Ireland. Throughout the district Father James had acquired an almost saintly status. This young American, and a priest besides, who in the early twenties had come to a place whose young men were looking longingly toward the West, had, by means of his arrival, insane from the local perspective, achieved his own portrait, a portrait that was seen in the eyes of his new neighbours to be tinged with that shade of gold with which the haloes of those possessed by divine madness are painted. And when on the wings of rumours, larger and more powerful than the wings of that specter which was hovering over the other part of Europe, came the news that he was Fitzpatrick’s only son, that Fitzpatrick, the young man in Clare Morris almost became what a certain Francesco had once been in Assisi. This news helped young James, at the first glance paradoxically, in his desire for peace and loneliness. Because his life, his life style, suffused with reading and contemplation, became what was expected from him. In time, a modus vivendi developed between him and the local parishioners whereby Father James took confession from one of them each month. And only in those moments did he break his vow of silence: he would give advice to the penitent, but his advice always consisted of one (only one) short sentence. Local legend assigned to Father James’ advice the power of healing and the certainty of prophecy. The antique flavour of Ian’s adventure was still secreting the saliva of exaltation. When he arrived in Claremorris, the old adepts said: Young stranger’s a copy of Father James! The wings of rumuor were efficient again. In a few days everyone knew that Ian was Father
James’s nephew. The truth of this rumour and the lack of even the smallest insinuation that Ian could possibly be Father James’ son (though his age was approximately equal to the interval between the present and that time when the young priest had arrived at Clare Morris) illustrate in the clearest and most obvious way the widespread popularity of Father James among the population. Because any infinitesimal doubt in Father James’s holiness would have initiated an entire gothic novel about sin in illo tempore and escape from an unwanted marriage. After all similarity in appearance between a father and son is more common and more visible than between an uncle and a nephew. But, in any case, this rumour helped Ian (just as the old rumour had helped his uncle) and the locals let him have the next scheduled audience with Father James. The meeting between Ian Tishri and his uncle James Fitzpatrick, Father James, was extraordinary. Nor was confession to Father James an ordinary confession. That is why these confessions were not held in the regular décor of a confessional, that system of connected containers, where the priest cannot see the face of the penitent, and where sounds of confession and admonition pass through a
small window in a wall while remorse and forgiveness are exchanged through the wall by osmosis and diffusion. Confession to Father James was ornamented by a more intimate iconography: the penitent and the father confessor would sit next to each other in the last pew and the quiet sounds of confession could almost have been taken for whispers at a school desk. If the believer looked in Father James’s eyes, the look was returned, if he looked to the floor or ceiling, Father James would do the same. Ian looked his uncle in the eyes while telling him his whole life. No trace of sentiment could be seen on the face of Father James, although at that critical moment when he stared for the first time at the still silent Ian, who was already swallowing him with his eyes, he must have recalled the legend of the magic mirror in which one sees a reflection of one’s own youth, or Wells’s time machine. Father, I was born as a prince. No, I am not an aristocrat or a prince from some obscure unhappy country. I am prince of a modern empire of gold bars and paper banknotes. I have never learned that mechanism by which the desires of ordinary people are created and aroused, that mechanism which, like a lottery, does not guarantee fulfilment. From conception all my desires had within them the certainty of fulfilment, just as in every birth there sprouts the seed of death. So from early childhood I have looked for distraction in idleness. And, idleness is, as someone has said, the mother of all sins. This was said, I believe, by some composer, himself perhaps a real idler, but I think nevertheless not inclined toward sin. Idleness without punishment is, perhaps, permitted only to great souls like those wise men about whom the Talmud says that their sin committed in the evening is already forgiven by morning because they repent sufficiently during the night. But idleness was my enemy. The fact that my childhood wishes were fulfilled without exception was not damaging in
itself, but such a development at the time of my early youth began to show its fatal consequences. At that time, Father, I did almost all of those things that the church calls sins, all except those that are the worst. But even that did not bring satisfaction. I did it all out of inertia, out of idleness. Quickly I was sated by such a life, and I was sick and tired of myself. At just about that time the war started and I signed up for the military. The almost geometric neatness of the military, its almost astronomical discipline and evolutionary order and hierarchy gave me, for a short period, a desired counterweight. But the commonplaces of military mythology are true only during peacetime training. War itself recalls mostly a party at full tilt: through a foggy glass everything is a somnambular ramble, and the dominant odor is some kind of juicy, sticky stink—a perfect mixture of the aromas of all bodily extracts, from those produced every day to the somewhat more exotic fruits of ejaculation and vomit. Upon returning from the war I tried to begin university studies, but that sterile apotheosis of mediocrity disgusted me more than anything. After that I tried to behave normally or in such a way as the statistical ghost of an average man would behave if he were in my shoes. It did not work. After having given myself over a few times to short and almost pharisaical fads of ecstasy over trivial things I realized that I was nowhere. Here I am with you, Father. What should I do? Son, seek the truth in the Second Book. On the return trip to New York Ian did not sleep well. Through the alabaster labyrinths of his insomnia one sentence echoed, the only one he would ever hear from his uncle, Father James: Son, seek the truth in the Second Book. The magnitude of the expectations with which he had departed on the trip fused with James’s reputation as a prophet and saint, like the wealth of the Tishris and the Fitzpatricks. His uncle’s words became a password, a prayer, a mantra, a proverb, haiku, a behest, and a petit phrase. During one of those painful insomnias, he reached for The Bible that was on the nightstand in his cabin as it is on the nightstand of some hotel room or on the edge of the wooden balustrade that surrounds the witness stand in court. He opened The Holy Scriptures as if for the first time. He opened the book randomly, like that governor from a Dostoievsky novel who would, whenever he found himself in a dilemma, open some book and give prophetic value to the first sentence on the page to which the book opened. Ian glanced at the randomly turned page. On top there was a title: The Second Book of Kings. Ian trembled feverishly while he searched for the table of contents. In the Bible itself there were three additional Second Books: The Second Book of Moses (or Exodus), The Second Book of Samuel, and The Second Book of Chronicles. Happy and flustered, Ian skipped Genesis and slowly began to read Exodus: Now these are the names of the sons of Israel… Throughout the crossing Ian read Biblical Second Books. But it seemed to him that he did not find the truth, that there was perhaps some part of the truth here, a fragment of the truth, but that the whole truth was not here. In The New Testament there are no Second Books, and so he could not have read Pilate’s famous question, the only Biblical sentence Nietzsche considered worth reading: What is the truth? But he knew what he had to do when he arrived home: there are more Second Books. The most beautiful room in the Tishri’s magnificent house of was the library. But this library, like many similar ones, was more a quiet corner for business agreements than a place for reading. Nor had Ian ever explored the contents of the wide shelves that completely covered the walls, like some bas-relief wallpaper,. Now he looked at the spines of all, precisely all the books, and he took down those without a title on the spine, looking for a title on the cover. He was searching for a Second Book. He found two: Emerson’s essays Second Series, and Kipling’s The Second Jungle Book. Some of Emerson’s thoughts elated him, but he did not find in them what he would consider the truth. Kipling reminded him of childhood, that heavenly period when Mowgli’s naďve and picturesque adventures can fill and satisfy a spirit with ordinary narrative without
a need for deep questions and pathetic answers. But after he had read these books he put them on the nightstand in his own room on which there had been until then only The Bible, The Bible was somewhat unusual because it contained four bookmarks marking Second Books. In this way Ian Tishri started the creation of his famous library. But his first encounter with The Second Book revealed something very important to him. A Second Book need not stand by itself. A Second Book could be just part of a book. This was guaranteed by those four prime examples with which he started his exploration of Second Books, it was guaranteed by the most distinguished authority: The Bible. His search of the house library based on consultations of the content of the books and not only on reading their titles yielded a much richer catch. He started with The Second Book of Plato’s Republic, which says that the state does not need poets, and continued with The Second Book of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (all ideas arise from sensation or reflection), and with The Second Book of Spinoza’s Ethics, which considers the nature and origin of the soul. All these Second Books gave joy to the spirit, but Ian did not know whether that joy was a sign of the presence of truth. But at one moment Ian suspected that the essence of his uncle’s secretive Pythian advice was not the term The Second Book, but the term “the truth.” He was rescued from this small crisis by one particular Second Book and Ian hoped that it was only an auger and indication of the fact that there exists somewhere another Second Book (a Second Book squared), a true Second Book that would answer all of his deepest questions, that would reveal the truth to him just as like The Second Book of Augustine’s Soliloquies had answered the petty doubts expressed by the question that tormented him in his short-lived crisis, a question that represented an individual variation of Pilate’s dilemma: is there truth and does it make sense to search for it? A.: I see a very plain and compendious order. R.: Let this then be the order, that you answer my questions cautiously and firmly. A.: I attend. R.: If this world shall always abide, it is true that this world is always to abide? A.: Who doubts that? R.: What if it shall not abide? Is it not then true that the world is not to abide? A.: I dispute it not. R.: How, when it shall have perished, if it is to perish, will it not then be true, that the world has perished? For as long as it is not true that the world has come to an end, it has not come to an end: it is therefore self-contradictory, that the world is ended and that it is not true that the world is ended. A.: This too I grant. R.: Furthermore, does it seem to you that anything can be true, and not be Truth? A.: In no wise. R.: There will therefore be Truth, even though the frame of things should pass away. A.: I cannot deny it. R.: What if Truth herself should perish? Will it not be true that Truth has perished? A.: And even that who can deny? R.: But that which is true cannot be, if Truth is not. A.: I have just conceded this. R.: In no wise therefore can Truth fail. A.: Proceed as thou hast begun, for than this deduction nothing is truer.
The advice of Saint Augustine was just an echo of James Fitzpatrick’s advice. Ian continued as he had begun. Time passed, and Ian was still searching for the truth. He looked for it in each Second Book, and in Second Books. Two Second Books approached Ian’s understanding of truth more closely than did the others: The Second Book of Schopenhauer’s The World As Will and Representation, and The Second Book of Kierkegaard’s Either-Or. But the problem of truth is a problem of finality. Ian could not be satisfied with anything, because even when he discovered something somewhere that had the flavour of truth, he could not know whether this was just a tasteless imitation since he did not know the taste of real truth. His measure of truth was intellectual ecstasy, but even in a moment of great ecstasy it is impossible to know whether the
ecstasy could be greater. The only way to check is to experience even greater ecstasy. When something is accepted as the truth, it is hard to know if it is the closest thing to the truth that we have managed to reach until then or if it is finally the acme, the final emancipation, the real truth. The human heart is not an infallible angelic compass; the heart’s North is not absolute. Already by the mid-sixties Ian Tishri’s famous library of Second Books contained an almost innumerable mass of volumes. It would be difficult here to employ the phrase usually used by snobs when they talk about the wealth of their mostly unread libraries: it contains so many titles. Because Ian Tishri’s books both did and did not have the same or different titles. Only a small number of volumes had the words The Second Book in their titles, words to which there were usually added others (as in Kipling). Other books contained a Second Book (as in Schopenhauer or Kierkegaard) or Second Books (as in The Bible). But two more things were common to all those books: all of them were in English and all of them were, in a certain sense, classics. Sometime towards the end of the sixties Ian Tishri decided that it was worth searching for truth in other languages and in unknown sources. It was at about this time that the fame of Ian Tishri started to grow. Because susceptibility to gossip, unpleasant celebrity, and all kinds of rumours are one of those devastations that— as Pascal said—hurt us when we do not know that we should stay inside our own home. For with the exception of the most basic quotidian necessities, the only thing Ian Tishri spent his wealth on was Second Books. Because of Second Books he also learned foreign languages. In addition to French and Italian, which he had known earlier, he learned Spanish, Portuguese, German, Polish, and Russian. But besides procuring Second Books in different languages and those from the pens of varied anonymous writers, Ian’s obsession with owning and reading every Second Book in order to finally find out the truth gave birth to another curiosity. As it happened, his many scouts for Second Books were flooding him with textbooks and anthologies consisting of two volumes and whose second volume, for practical reasons, had in its title The Second Book, like a spy with a fake name. (Old writers knew well the difference between a volume and a book. It is impossible to mix up a second volume with, say, the Second Book The World as Will and Representation. Division into two volumes is just a technical dichotomy, while a book is divided into multiple books in the same way that a symphony is divided into movements: based on content and harmony.) But it seems that Ian did not mind this quid pro quo. He read every Second Book for the first time with equal care. Because of that Tishri’s library contains, among the others, Second Poetry Book by John Foster, and Das Zweite Buch by Otto Waalkes, and The Second Book of Irish Myths and Legends edited by Eoin Neeson, and Âň î đ ŕ ˙ ęíčăŕ by Osip Mandelstam, and Druga Knjiga by Muharem Dzenetic, and Le Second Livre by Charles Gerard, and Alter Liber de Amores by Ovidio, and The Second Book of Modern Verse edited by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse, and Âňîđŕ˙ ęíčăŕ by Nikolay Zabolotski, and The Second Book by James Woodstone. Like many other passions, this one kept growing with the passage of years, aging, and the approach of death. While in the seventies Second Books were arriving to Ian mostly from Europe, Australia, and the two Americas, the eighties brought the third world of Asia and Africa to the library of Second Books. Old age is not the ideal time for learning exotic languages. For that reason Ian Tishri employed young linguists to translate Second Books for him from Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, and various small languages of India and black Africa. Numerous young experts found starry moments of financial freedom working for Ian Tishri. One sociological study was written about the influence of the rumour that claimed there was a job flowing with milk and honey waiting at Ian Tishi’s for every graduate of some far-away unknown language on enrolments in small departments of philology at New York universities in the mid-eighties. So Ian Tishri spent his old age reading bound copies of unique translations of a variety of Sec-
ond Books. A Mongolian literary magazine suggested that writers there should name their writings Second Books because that would guarantee them a translation into English. In 1988 Ian Tishri, like Emperor Hadrian, began to realize the profile of his death. He had not found the truth and he knew and felt that he would never find it. Perhaps that is why his passion for reading Second Books slowly decreased, but that did not mean in any way that Second Books stopped coming to the house of the Tishris, that postmodern Babylonian library. On the contrary, packages of books with colourful stamps continued to crowd the mailbox dedicated to Second Books, from where they were taken to Ian’s house for unpacking and classification. On September 18, 1989 Ian Tishri wrote his famous will, somewhere also called the scandal of the century, by which he left his whole fortune to a council comprised of his oldest and most loyal colleagues and suppliers, and this council was charged with spending the wealth entrusted to it exclusively for the acquisition of Second Books and to turn the Tishri house into a Library of Second Books, which could be used gratis, but only on-site by all those interested. For that reason one room had to be turned into a reading room.
The will was otherwise perfect in its strictness, level of detail, and it accounted for every possibility. Thus, for example, every member of the council had to delegate in his own will a person who would inherit his place, and Ian Tishri at just about at that time bought the large house of his next door neighbours, the Collinses, for an enormous amount of money (that was the first large sum of money not directly spent on Second Books) and in the will he arranged that this house was also to be used as a library if the Tishri house became too small for all the books. Ian Tishri was not religious in a conventional sense. Perhaps one of the reasons was his ancestry, or the marriage of his parents, which did not give him a specific identity. But at the privileged moment of death, which differs from the analogous moment of birth by the presence of self consciousness, Ian Tishri confessed to Samuel Wilson, his most loyal colleague and helper, a Slavist, and the first president of the council of the Library of Second Books. Perhaps he wanted to repeat the moment of confession to his uncle, Father James, the moment he considered to mark his own spiritual birth. And the term confession itself, it could be, reminded him of his ancestry and of one more strange similarity between the two tribes of his ancestors, of the Jewish-psychoanalytical reformation of the Catholic dogma of confession that was made by Sigmund Freud, that Viennese Luther. It has now been more than forty years since I began reading and collecting Second Books. You know how everything started. If I return to that time when I waited for a ship to take me to the East, to Ireland, to find my uncle who was to tell me a reason for living, it is hard to believe my own luck. Soon I am going to the West and I know that my voyage to the East gave meaning to and saved my life. I was truly lucky. Because, to find a man from whom
there had been neither trace nor voice for thirty-some years, and to find him in as he was, that is divine luck. I often ask myself whether my uncle recognized me, but that is probably irrelevant. All of Mayo county considers his advice to be a formula for salvation.. I have thought many times about this. How is it possible for someone to have such power? And many times I compared in my thoughts that abbey with the Temple of Delphi. Ibis redibis numquam peribis in bello: you will go to war, get killed, not return or you will go to war, not get killed, return. This prophecy for soldiers always comes true because in Latin the same phrase states and means both possible fates, utterly different; everything depends on whether that numquam (will not) is tied to redibis ( return) or peribis (get killed). But my uncle’s sentence was advice, not prophecy. For that reason it is not ambiguous. To me it looks like a testament from a folk story. In that story a father has three sons, and all three are slackers, lazybones, and idlers. He tells them on his deathbed that he is leaving them a huge treasure buried in the vineyard, but that even he himself does not know precisely where. The three start digging and of course they do not find anything because there is no treasure. But the well-aerated soil of the vineyard bears fruit as never before and the three realize that the true treasure is in work. And so I did not find the truth either, but I did find happiness and peace. Like Columbus I went looking for India, but found America. To myself I look like an alchemist. I did not find the philosopher’s stone, but I accidentally discovered many other beautiful, important, and useful things. That is perhaps even better. Because, if that first Second Book had been the true one, or if some among the first ones were the true ones (as perhaps they were), what would have I done for the past forty years. But you are most interested, I’m sure, in my motives for making such a will. It is strange. Somewhere I read that all big things have a banal rationale. Then perhaps this testament of mine is a big thing. You know that for the last two years I have almost stopped reading Second Books. You certainly remember that for a while I read comic books. In one Italian comic the following story happens. A certain New York professor named Martin, a private detective as well, who deals with paranormal cases, meets some black hooligan who, after waking up from coma into which he fell after being wounded in a robbery, is convinced that he is in fact a white girl named Annabel Lee. He even states the town he (or she) in fact comes from: it is some unknown small town in New England. The black man knows the humanities perfectly, too well for a vagabond, a homeless man, and a criminal without any schooling. He knows classical languages, and in Martin’s presence he reads the Iliad aloud in the original. Martin becomes intrigued, thinks about some kind of reincarnation, and goes to the small New England town, but in the county records he discovers that no one with last name of Lee has ever lived there. After many complications the black man is killed, and the last scenes of the comic book occur in the small New England town where some man with the last name of Lee has just moved in. He nervously paces the corridors of the hospital, because his wife is just about to give birth. In the hospital waiting room he notices a volume of poems by Edgar Allan Poe that had been forgotten there, and at that instant he realizes that, if his child is a girl, he will give his her the name Annabel so that she will be called Annabel Lee, just like in the poem. The black man, then, had truly been Annabel Lee, but her soul came into his body from the future, and not from the past. At that moment it hit me. Perhaps the true Second Book has not been written yet. Three days after this confession Ian Tishri died. The council carried out his last wish, continuing to collect Second Books from all over the world. But some distant relatives, in their immeasurable greed, are now trying to accuse the giant Ian Tishri of incompetence and to overturn his will. This chronicle is an attempt to defy the tide of slanders that many paid hacks are now producing for numerous publications. The only goal of this chronicle and the only purpose for its creation is the truth.
textbase Sebastian Gurciullo, Marginal Text, 2003 Louis Armand, Malice in Underland, 2003 D.J. Huppatz, City of Swallows, 2002 D.J. Huppatz, American Songs, 2001 Nicole Tomlinson, Familiar City, 2001 Louis Armand, Land Partition, 2001 D.J. Huppatz, Sealer’s Cove, 2000
Victims by Travis Jeppesen www.akashicbooks.com
In recent issues of the PLR you will find work by Marjorie Perloff, Gregory Ulmer, Simon Critchley, Karen Mac Cormack, McKenzie Wark, Alan Sondheim, MTC Cronin, Ales Debeljak, Allen Fisher, Emmanuelle Pireyre, Drew Milne, Ron Silliman, D.J. Huppatz, Sandra Miller, Bruce Andrews, Tom McCarthy, Pierre Daguin, Steve McCaffery, Kate Fagan, Travis Jeppesen, Nicole Tomlinson, Ethan Gilsdorf, Anselm Hollo, Kevin Nolan, Larry Sawyer, Bob Perelman, Petr Borkovec, John Kinsella and many more ... The PLR Prague’s international literary review www.shakes.cz/plr Krymská 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic
more ravenous, until he’s been transformed into a gigantic brainball bouncing through the deserted streets with a ferocious boing that can be heard from miles around. The aliens are frightened. They don’t know how to destroy this monster. They’ve tried everything—fire, missiles, bombs, hydrochloric acid—but nothing seems to work and every attempt to destroy the brain results in the loss of an alien life—one or several. They issue a protocol to abandon planet Earth, and all of them board their spacecrafts and fly off to another universe—all of them, that is, except for KRMY62, a misfit and a fuck-up, who’s off gathering toads the day the protocol is issued. KRMY62 soon encounters a human creature, a young female specimen named Molly, who hid in an empty vat while the evil brain maniacally desecrated her family’s brains back at the human laboratory. KRMY62 and Molly realize they must put their differences aside if they are to defeat this horrific abomination. They have to work together, and it won’t be easy; they only have two brains, and the Big Brain has millions. Molly’s idea is to somehow get the brain on to a spacecraft and blast it off into outer space. KRMY62 scoffs at the idea; these earthlings don’t understand anything about outer space. If they sent the brain up there, it would go on an intergalactic rampage, possibly destroy the entire galaxy! Plus, there are no more spacecrafts left on Earth. Just then, they hear the horrific boing coming from somewhere in the near distance. Molly screams helplessly. They run into an abandoned building to seek shelter. The building turns out to be a former drug treatment centre. The aliens didn’t know what to do with it, so they’d turned it into a laboratory for studying the brains of dead junkies. KRMY62 comes up with the brilliant idea of feeding the Big Brain the brains of junkies who OD’d on smack. If the toxicity level in the brains is high, it just might be enough to stone the big mean brain into oblivion. They set about frantically testing the toxicity level of the brains, discarding those that are too low and piling the high ones on to a gigantic brain platter. They set the brain platter outside the door of the lab and await the Big Brain’s arrival. Boing, boing, boing, goes the brain as it smells its diseased dinner rotting around the corner. When it finds the platter, it gobbles all the brains up in one fell swooping munch. Afterwards, the brain doesn’t feel so good. It opens its mouth to burp and ends up barfing brain matter instead. Molly and KRMY62 are watching from behind an overturned Earthmobile. When the brain reaches the highest plateau of catatonia, they emerge with giant pitchforks in hand and proceed to tear apart all the little brains comprising the Big Brain. Then they smash the little brains with their toes until they’re smeared all over the concrete of the abandoned city. Having finally defeated the Big Brain, Molly and KRMY62, being the last representatives of their respective species on Earth, fall in love and decide to create a brand new, half-human half-alien species to roam the empty planet. They kiss and the credits roll.
Travis Jeppesen was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1979. He is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Victims, which was published by Akashic Books in 2003 as the premier imprint of Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series; a Russian translation of the novel will be published in 2005. His poetry, short stories, and cultural criticism have appeared in Bookforum, the PLR, zionmag.com, dorfdisco.de, the New York Press, Megaera, Umelec, Low Blue Flame, Pavement Magazine, 3am Magazine, among other publications. Jeppesen was also an editor of the Prague Pill. The following “Oddities” are published in collaboration with the Prague-based photographer, Ahron Weiner. Travis Jeppesen
A Movie Some alien scientists locate the brain of a late great dictator. This is sometime in the future, so it’s not a dictator you or I have heard of. Or maybe it is and we’re just not aware of him yet. But definitely he’s a dictator rooted in history, somewhere or somehow, as opposed to a fictional dictator; at least this is what the movie wants us to believe. The alien scientists find his brain hidden away in some laboratory by Earth’s former inhabitants. It is labelled clearly with the dictator’s name taped on to the jar, and it is clearly a brain, a brain floating in formaldehyde, there can be no doubt about that, these are clever aliens, when they see a human brain they know what it is that they’re seeing. Likewise, when we as viewers see the brain up on the screen there is no doubt in our minds that what we are seeing is a brain, for even the least clever of us knows what a brain looks like. If you don’t know what a brain looks like, then you probably don’t have one and you certainly should not watch this movie, the title of which I’ve forgotten, but it’s not important because I never saw it anyway. These aliens, being clever, in addition to knowing what a human brain looks like and being able to identify how a human brain differs in proportion to a yak’s brain, also know all about human history, and human languages of the written and spoken varieties, and so when they find this jar containing the brain with the late great dictator’s name on it, they assume it must be a joke. The only thing to do is to remove the brain from the jar and play around with it, “play around” being a loose translation of the word for “experiment” in alien vernacular…They make the brain come alive. And this brain is hungry, hungry as the nights in winter were long before the sun burnt out like a sparkler and nearly everyone died because no one knew what to do and the aliens came to Earth, installing complex solar transmission systems from the brightest star of a distant galaxy, as well as some artificial lighting systems to make plants grow. The aliens have to figure out how to feed the brain or else it will become alive and go on a mad dictatorial rampage. This is a challenge that transcends their highly sophisticated otherworldly technology. The easiest solution would be to put the brain back in the jar and lock it up in a closet, but when they try that the brain comes alive, shattering the glass and making a big sticky mess all over the floor that they then have to clean up. No, they should not have tampered with the brain to begin with, but now it’s too late, and as two of the leading alien scientists are discussing what to do, the dictator’s brain gets hungry and eats the alien doctor’s hand off! He screams, it hurts so bad, alien blood squirting everywhere, total fucking mayhem, aliens running away in every direction. They climb into the spacecraft and fly away, somewhere safe where they can repair the alien doctor’s hand. Oh, but that’s a mistake, because as soon as they disappear, the dictator’s brain goes on a rampage, in search of more alien hands to eat. First, the brain breaks into the laboratory where Earth’s remaining living humans are stored for experiments. He destroys them all and eats their brains! (All but one, that is, but we won’t find that out until later…) With each human brain he eats, the brain gets bigger and bigger, his appetite more and
Poison Dolls What do you remember from your childhood, he asks. Adam: I remember the first time I saw Poison on MTV. I was 6-years-old. It was the I Want Action video. You know: I want action tonight / Satisfaction…all right. These guys came out with frizzy bleach blonde hair, jumping around like their spandex undies were on fire. I thought they were chicks at first. But that’s the thing: they were actually getting all the chicks by dressing like that. I went into my parents’ bathroom and applied my mother’s pink lipstick. I looked so pretty—just like Poison. I looked down and my thing had inflated—it was bobbing up and down, flexing, and I got freaked out, cos I’d never gotten a hard-on before. I thought there was something wrong with me, like my thing would explode at any minute…So I put mommy’s lipstick away and ran into my room. I hid away there for the rest of the day, practicing my moves in
front of the mirror: I had the poise of Sebastian Bach, the lightning-bolt energy of C.C. Deville, the electric facial expressions of Bobby Dall, and the commanding presence of early Vince Neil. I knew I was born to rock, but Hollywood is so far from Mechanicville. Every chance I got, I’d sneak in to use mom’s hot pink lipstick and superhold hairspray, make myself look like my idols. Until one day, mom walked in when I was in the middle of my routine. What’s worse is I’d gotten a little carried away and smeared her lipstick all over my body and was writhing around naked on the floor. I stood up…Whatever parts of me that weren’t painted pink turned bright red. I knew my music career had come to an end, before it’d even started. She helped me clean up and didn’t say a word the whole time. She didn’t tell dad, either. But she threw out my entire record collection—all the great bands of that era—Great White, Faster Pussycat, Cinderella, Twisted Sister…And both Poison records. Gone. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV anymore, either, but that didn’t matter too much. Times were changing really fast, and the next time I
watched MTV a few years later, all traces of the Barbie dolls with bulges in their pants that I’d admired so much in my early youth had vanished, only to be replaced by ungroomed neohippie hairfloppers. You could tell by looking at these grunge guys that they didn’t bathe very often, and I knew then my life would never be the same. Childhood was over. Music ceased playing the vital role it once played as the gemstone of my existence, so I turned to poetry, something I could keep inside me, away from the tasteless masses. Zach: For me, it was Masters of the Universe and Transformers. Not so much the shows, but the action figures. I had em all— He-Man, Skeletor, and then mom bought me a She-Ra doll. I made He-Man and She-Ra fight. He-Man ended up ripping She-Ra’s head off by the end of the day. Then I took her head and tied the hairs around the arm of the rocking chair out on the front porch. Later, when mom found She-Ra’s head hanging there, she asked me why I’d done it. I told her the truth: He-Man did it. I liked the Transformers because they became different things. One minute you’re a robot, then you just fold and click a part of your anatomy and you’re a monster truck driving down the highway, away from all the trouble you’ve gotten yourself into: your parents, the police, it all fades away, until you arrive at your destination, where you’re free to change into something else…A cactus, maybe… There’s a long silence, not uncomfortable, a
moment for reflection on death or something; then Adam breaks it. That was beautiful, Zach. Shut up.
Brutally Morbid “This next song is going to be called, ‘I Want To Kill You.” The legend pulled down his pants and shit on the microphone. “Hey,” said Mike, “these guys are pretty good.” But it doesn’t stop there. For as soon as they started to play the song, the guitarist’s strap cut loose, the instrument fell and broke his foot in half. “Ouch,” he said as Vomit, the band’s trusty roadie, pulled the footless wonder off the stage. A bunch of beer bottles flew toward them like a ritual, causing some minor confusion, as the broken glass wasn’t sure which direction to fly in, until a shard landed in Mike’s eye. “Let’s get out of here,” he sniffled. “What?” I couldn’t hear him owing to the tidal wave of feedback that was drowning out all the other frequencies. “Uh—it doesn’t matter— “so he pulled the glass out of his eye and ate it, along with a tiny piece of his eyeball. “Mmmm,” he managed through a belch, “I can see so clearly now.” In an effort to understand something behind the noise, an effort that was doomed to fail, just like all such efforts, everything that’s worthwhile undertaking, are doomed to fail, we left Hell’s Toilet behind and returned to the source of our first impression. That is, our first impression of that evening’s torture. We knocked on Pete’s front door. Inside, his mother had some burgers going on the grill. “Y’all fancy some burgers?” “Don’t use the word fancy,” I told him. “It makes you sound like a British turd.” Then I shot him with my stun gun and dragged him into the back room, which was filled with dead dragonflies on account of Pete’s mysterious hobby. It was when the hallucinations started that I knew it was real. “What kind of beef is your mom using in those burgers?” Pete kind of mumbled and drooled. “You got any dry ice?” asked Mike as he rubbed his sore eyeball. But I wouldn’t relent. “What are you tryin to do? Kill me with the mad cow?” Just then the stun gun went off a second time in my hand, shot Mike in the leg. I didn’t intend to do it, it just happened on its own, a mechanical reflex or something. “Oh shit,” said Mike as he fell to the floor. “Fuck,” I screamed at no one, the wind. “Now what am I gonna do with this story?” I wandered outside with the stun gun still in my hand. “Better get rid of this,” I thought to myself. So I tossed it behind a tree and started playing my favourite riff on air guitar. There was nothing else to do. Just then, Satan walked by with a bag of golf clubs on his back. “Holy shit,” I said. “It’s Satan.” Satan halted in front of my verbal recognition, asked me if I had a light. I said no. Then he asked me if I had any golfballs. “Golfballs, golfballs,” I thought out loud.
“Where can we get some golfballs?” When he wasn’t still drunk from the night before, my dad would play golf every Sunday morning down by the jiffy mart, along with his trusty pals Jimbo and Roy Rodgers the Third. I used to yell at him before and after, tell him that golf was a tool of the establishment. But if Satan plays, I guess I was wrong after all. “Let’s go to my house,” I said. “We can get some balls off my old man. It’s not far from here.” When we got to my house, Satan wasn’t paying attention and accidentally walked right through the screen door. Dad heard the ruckus from out back and came running into the house with his greasestain t-shirt on. “What the hell’s going on here,” he screamed, drunk. “Dad, this is my friend Satan.” Dad eyed Satan’s golf clubs suspiciously. “Some say it’s just a game with a ball and a stick,” he said with a friendly malice. “For me, it’s a religion.” He said the word “religion,” so he had to die. Satan hit him in the face with a golf club. His eyes went boing, an exclamation point flashed through the air, he fell backwards with a fat drunken thud. I went into the garage to dig out his balls. I found some orange ones and showed them to Satan. “Will these be big enough?” “Why not?” said Satan. “Orange is my favourite colour.” It was pretty wicked to be walking around the neighbourhood with Satan. I wanted to go get my friends, to show them. The guys would never believe it. Who knew how long Satan would hang around. That’s when I remembered that all my friends were stunned. All of them, that is, except for Metal Mike. “Satan, man, before we play golf, we should go visit my friend. He’s a huge fan of yours.” “Okay, but make it quick.” I went into Metal Mike’s house while Satan waited out in the front yard. “Dude, you’re never going to believe this.” Metal Mike was eating a bowl of cereal, watching some gay talk show on TV. “What?” “Satan’s outside.” “…Hm?” “Satan, man. He’s here with me.” “Where?” “Outside.” “No he’s not.” “Yes he is.” “Bullshit.” “No, he is. I swear. Come see for yourself.” “Man, you’re full of shit.” “Dude, I’m not fucking with you. I swear to god, Satan is standing in your front yard as we speak.” “So bring him in the house.” “Dude! I can’t believe this! You want me to piss Satan off?” “Why the fuck would Satan be hanging out with your lame ass?” “He happened to be walking outside as I was leaving Pete’s house to go play with my stun gun. He wants to play golf somewhere.” “You’re so full of shit, man. Satan doesn’t play golf.” “Dude, I swear to you. He just killed my dad with a golf club.” “You killed your dad?” “No, you fucking idiot. It was Satan. Satan killed him.” My stomach turned. I suddenly remembered the burgers Pete’s mother had been
preparing for us. Those gnarly, brutal burgers. I suddenly wanted one. I was staring at the soggy remains of Metal Mike’s cereal bowl and I didn’t even realize it. He had to call me a dingus and threaten to fist my mother before I snapped out of it. “Fine, man,” I told him. “It’s your choice. Just know it’s a final one. Satan doesn’t wait around for no one. You’re really missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” “What are you, his official spokesman now, or something?” he shrugged, raised the bowl to his mouth, slurped. By the time I left Metal Mike’s, Satan had disappeared. I walked around the house, into the backyard, and as I rounded the corner I saw two squirrels fucking, but no Satan. “Oh shit,” I screamed. I was so pissed off, I wanted to kill something, so I slammed my head against the wall repeatedly until weird geometric configurations began to appear and my eyes were still open. Then I fell on the ground and crushed some insects. A thought occurred. I forgot it. I could go to the railroad tracks, I thought. Then I forgot that one, too. Nothing left but my wounded affection for the Evil One, I stumbled towards Pete’s in a broken zig-zag, blood flowing from my left temple. “Burgers!” I cried, “Burgers!”
JOSHUA COHEN Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in New Jersey, U.S.A. and has spent time in New York, Israel, and now resides in Prague. He has worked at casinos, on cruise-ships, in restaurants, and as a journalist and editor for many publications, including Sequenza 21, the Prague Pill, New York Press, Zion, and as a foreign correspondent for the Jewish Forward. He has contributed short fiction to various journals, including Modern Word, Est, and the PLR. Joshua Cohen’s other works include numerous uncollected stories, a book entitled Jewish Novel, and a story collection, The Quorum, forthcoming from Twisted Spoon Press in 2005. Joshua Cohen
A Piece Cheese A piece cheese, Simon keeps saying, a week after even, all I wanted. What about what I wanted? You’re supposed to give that up when you have a son, aren’t you? Simon, my son, without a father. Me, a mother without a husband. Parents dead too. Tough, but that’s life. Not for sympathy, but just the facts as the cops say. What he did to me. A mother alone with her son in the city. Put me through. Subway to the good hospital, twelve stops, from here you change twice. Eyes punched from sockets, thrown by my hair. Emergency room waiting, waiting and lawyers. Getting bruises photographed, for proof, the asshole lawyer with his camera, shooting up my legs. Then the lawyer in bed at night, not at table in morning. Lonely. Nightly. No way to raise a kid, not Simon. Only yesterday a new man moved in downstairs. A piece cheese, Simon says, all I wanted. And all I wanted was a family, a man who provides. You’re supposed to give him up when you have a son, not the other way around. That’s all I am to them: a mother. The round mirror lies, says I’m more, dressing for court. It once was better. But things go wrong. I am a man and I have a mouse clock. The mouse clock is all I have. The mouse clock is the sole element of my existence. What I live for. Everything. And you have to live for something. How it all began I don’t remember. I live on the first floor, the ground, have lived here for years, nearly half my life. Won’t live anywhere else but the ground and I’m not afraid of burglars. What are they going to take? A mouse? Every night at eleven I leave 24 pieces of cheese for this mouse who comes every hour, on the hour, for a piece. To the second. I’d timed it long ago with my grandfather’s watch until it died and who had the money to repair it. Midnight to midnight, the mouse is never late, never misses. Who knows how the mouse knows? how it’s done? Mice are closer to nature, closer than I am. I’ve never named the mouse, but maybe the mouse named me. He’s not even my mouse, just a mechanism of my mouse clock, how I tell time now, my long time, a private obsession of mine. As private obsessions go, it’s better than porno or murder, cheaper than rare baseball cards or coins. Stamps I like, used to do. You could use them to reach people, touch them, send them away, or just get all you can, snatch them from circulation, paste them up in an album, keep everyone distanced, alone. The clock was my idea and the mouse was the mouse’s. Who trained
who? I know what people would think and that’s why I don’t know people. Every hour on the hour, to the second, the mouse comes out from hiding (I’ve never found where, never cared) and retrieves one piece, one hour. When he retrieves the 24th piece, eleven at night, I place 24 more for tomorrow, in a circle, an elongated clockface, a circle around my square room, the mouse’s room, the room of my mouse clock. I need only hours, not minutes or seconds. My life is long, slow, and I never lay out more than a day in advance. I’ll never eat an hour (no matter how hungry), never miscount or slice thinner on purpose. A piece is a piece is a piece. I bribe my days day to day. The cheese is cheese—whatever brand’s cheapest at the corner market—the mouse is a mouse. I live alone, never had any money. Nothing to support really, just my time. Like the mouse, I try to live small, ask little, embarrass no one. Today there’s a fast knock at the door. I never have any visitors, never did and if I did I wouldn’t want them visiting. I opened the door a crack, wouldn’t want anyone to see the clock, wouldn’t want to explain it, couldn’t really. It’s mine, between me and the mouse. I kept the chain on the door, everyone does. It was a woman who said she knew me, talked quickly, didn’t understand her at first, but I didn’t know her, and her son was in tow, shy, eyes at the high hem of her skirt. She said his name was Simon. Never said her name. She wanted to leave him with me for a few hours, would it be okay she said not as a question, said she had an appointment, but she was too dressed for an appointment, dressed maybe not sleazy but questionable to most. Or maybe I’m just getting old. I didn’t know what to say, didn’t say anything, she pushed the kid inside the crack, squeezed him through, he went to her will, bent his nose, she shut the door hard. I said hello to Simon and he said hello to me, without words, rubbing his nose. We nodded. About five years old, maybe four, I guessed, but how would I know? I was a kid once too, with a father I’d rather forget. Simon was too small to do real damage if I watched him. At least if there was a fight I would win. But suddenly I grabbed him, ran him out the door, threw it shut behind us, out the front to throw him back to his mother, but she wasn’t there. The street was empty, except for the usual saints and trash. Where had she gone so fast? in such a hurry? So we went to the park. I couldn’t abandon him. She’d come back for him, had to, alternative would be unthinkable. Not that it never happened, in this city. We sat in the park, shared a bench, and I smoked. A good example to the kid. When the ash blew away, he dragged me to the swings and the seesaw. We began to play as no one played before. What happened to me? We hung from the bars and flung sand. For the first time in eternity I was having fun. I began to think of myself as his father, him as my son. I know it’s predictable, but predictable is most of the time true. I tousled his hair a lot. He was having a party and I was invited. I bought a golden ball and we threw it around in another park. I bought a stuffed monkey and in another park I put on a show for him, doing voices I didn’t know I had, inventing daring escapes from flaming zoos, moustachioed hunters foiled by the dark rainforest, bound to wide trees with strong vines, great guns shooting bananas out of their peels. God, I spent all my money for the month. On him. We must’ve visited all the parks in the city, at least it seemed. Running and jumping, laughing, arms swinging to bat the sun, two kids really, but one was someone’s son. Shouldn’t forget I had to return him, she would come to collect. I had to, she had to. I had my existence to think about. What hour was it anyway? How much dairy into the day? It was dark when we left, moon lowing, and I set an example, told him to give the ball and the monkey to some poor kids we met hanging on a traffic island. At first they were wary. When they saw earnestness, they thought to take advantage, but how. We convinced them. Then their eyes grew younger by years and they thanked us, offered us cigarettes. I took one, a ten year-old lit it, expert match cupped in his immaculate palm, I smoked it on our way home. I asked Simon which was his apartment and he didn’t remember. Which floor? They’re all
the same. Down the stairs, I took him to the ground, back to mine, knowing the mother would find us. How couldn’t she? He was tired and so was I, such a fast day of breathing so hard to enjoy I hadn’t known in awhile. And neither had he, I thought. I left him alone, for a moment, in the mouse clock room, instructing him not to eat anything, telling him twice, nervous as citizens are, while I made my bed for him in the next room. I gave him no reason. Kids should sleep at night. He’d get a meal from his mother when she came back, I was sure. But I’m the one who’s suddenly tired. I catyawn, stretch in. Can’t help it. God, just to sit. Legs heavy and head spinning. In the bed I made for him, I lay down. I was late, I admit it. So sue me. Tried to make a run for it without seeming rude. I trusted the man, but who would’ve thought. So I didn’t have an appointment, I had a date with some guy, a shipping supervisor from work. An asshole. Everyone is. When I came back, I must’ve looked terrible, wreck of the Hesperus my grandma used to say: hair wild, lipstick streaked down my neck, shirt torn, where was my bra? I knocked on his door. He seemed like a good man. What was his name? Saw him every day going out, coming in again. He kept a regular schedule. Father material. It was an emergency. My babysitter backed out on me for a higher-paying couple and I didn’t know anyone else. Couldn’t miss this date, might lose my job, a future. Thought he would provide. He seemed like a quiet guy. Older, I should say distinguished. Earnest but not a retard. And I still have to trust. How can’t you? I knocked. I heard crying, Simon. I had to break the door down with my shoulder. It hurt. Get a lawyer to photograph the mark. Simon was sitting on the floor, crying, a rat near him, on the floor, just there, twitching up at him. Thank God it didn’t bite him, those things have diseases. Children shouldn’t live in the city. I screamed for the guy, didn’t know his name, no answer. Apartment same as ours, I found him asleep in the next room. I waited, Mommy, I waited. Simon kept crying. He said no cheese but I was hungry. The mouse got the cheese, three piece, and I wanted some too. Then there was one piece left. I was hungry. I ate the piece cheese. Why was cheese on the floor, Mommy? Children ask some funny questions. I didn’t want to wake up the man, Mommy. Children are precious. Why were you so long? I went to the sleeping man. At peace, a smiled face, all is forgiven. I shook him. Wake up, I’m here. He wasn’t asleep. Jesus. He was dead. “Dane Zajc and the Poetics of Solitude” (from page 3)
that once were hands, hands that never caressed a woman, strong young bones caressing the soil. ...Inconceivable is the harvest of beautiful brown eyes, the barren harvest of the unfeeling earth. In his second collection, Tongue of Soil, published in 1961, Dane Zajc rejected both the political and the aesthetic assumptions of the day. He created a new language, a new tongue, a tongue of soil that speaks words of clay. This innovative concentration on the earth’s most material aspect lent him a certain relaxation and warmth, yet at the same time the power of destruction, revealed as fire in [the] mouth. In order to create, the poet—the eternal outsider—had to conquer his fear of discovery. Zajc knew that black crows will kill a white one. Moreover, he knew that this was not merely a characteristic of the communist cultural and political hegemony, but also and above all, a description of the primordial mythical narrative of any collective in any historical epoch. In search of a new language, Dane Zajc often approached the border that divided poetry from mysticism. The mystic feels that words are not sufficient and for this reason he grows silent.
The poet, for the same reason, sings on. The poet must always try to gather the elemental words from a life which lacks mythical totality. He must gather meaning from the whinnying of crows above solitary mountains, from the movement of things in a morning breeze, from strangers, your children, from the same, in another world, the same. To absorb the ritual incantation in the poems of Dane Zajc implies a surrender to another world, a world of magical enchantment and sacrifice, a world of Biblical parallelism and of the authority the ancient Greek choruses used to command. It is not merely a biographical detail to note that for nearly a quarter of a century Dane Zajc has been the renter of a cottage in the highlands above the glacier Bohinj Lake. Zajc is a passionate mountaineer who is not intimidated even by dangerous winter expeditions. In his attachment to the Alpine world of rugged peaks and abandoned high mountain pastures, in his marriage to the world of sharp edges, it is necessary to recognise the fundamental source of Zajc’s poetic vocabulary. Birds, ravines, insects, organs, blindingly bright light, vipers, sky, water and mountains, veiled behind eyes: all of these are signs of the eternal continuity of being. Another recollection, another image: one autumn day in 1990—or perhaps it was spring—I met Dane in America. This was the first time we had met in the United States. Even in the third millenium, it is not usual that two Slovenian writers run into each other at the same literary reading in the same American city. At that time American readers could not reach for a single anthology of Slovenian writers and English translations of Slovenian poetry books could be counted on a carpenter’s hand (that is to say, a hand with three fingers missing). Our meeting was thus more spontaneous that it might be today. In other words, Dane and I had come from an anonymous national tradition to perform in a culture where the yoke of anonymity is carried by an individual. Dane’s young readers saw him as a great poet regardless of his reputation in Slovenia about which in any case they knew nothing. Deep individual immersion in his poetry, however, demonstrated that artistic vision knows no temporal limits, ethnic prejudices or hierarchies of international opinion. In spite of the necessary awkwardness caused by linguistic borders which are the borders of the world, a good poem, although through the veil of translation, will plant a kiss on the most intimate part of its reader, because to be convincing it must speak of an archetypal situation in which the reader discovers with astonishment her own portrait. Precisely because of this quality, Zajc’s grateful American readers invited him to lead a three-day workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee—the kind of workshop with which the country between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans teems. As I was completing my doctoral dissertation at an university in New York at the time, I was already well-acquainted with an institutionalisation of poetry as a discipline which is taught at colleges in such a way that besides the attainment of craft and skills, participating writers also acquire a nomadic micro-collective since in the enormous spaciousness of this disturbing and fascinating culture they cannot hope for the advantages of European cafe society and other more spontaneous forms of social life. Here I will leave aside the thought that the cafe, like most traditionally civilising institutions in contemporary Europe, is disappearing into the fog of nostalgic myth. I will instead offer what I hope is a revealing anecdote. For several hours already, Zajc had been sitting motionless on a green, worn-out armchair in the living room of Richard Jackson, a poet and literature professor who had written about Zajc in a number of lucid essays. The party unfolding around him was reaching a crescendo of sorts. There was not a quiet corner in the house. Of course, it was only appropriate to have a celebration at the end of the workshop and its lectures on the uses of style in contemporary poetry. Dane Zajc probably didn’t much care about the style. Why would he? He had only ever mastered one style: his own. The one that emerged from the aching marrow in his bones. If a man writes a founding tablet in the spiritual architecture of his people, the lush (continued on page 20)
FESTIVAL PROGRAMME 16.5 SHAKESPEARE + SONS 20:00 (Krymská 12, Praha 3-Vršovice, www.shakes.cz/) Readings by Martin Reiner-Pluháček (CZ), Odillo Stradický ze Strdic (CZ), Jaroslav Pižl (CZ) Opening Party: “Virtual Poetics” Audio & video recordings by John Kinsella (Australia), David Antin (USA), Michel Delville & Andrew Norris (Belgium / UK), Alan Sondheim (USA), Augusto de Campos (Brazil), Zoe Beloff (Scotland)
17.5 ALCHEMY READING SERIES 20:00
20.5 GLOBE BOOKSTORE 20:00 (Pštrossova 6, Praha 1, www.globebookstore.cz/) Readings by Desmond Kon (Singapore), Vincent Farnsworth (USA), Rod Mengham (UK), Věra Chase (CZ), GwendolynAlbert (USA), Noelle Perera (Singapore), Róbert Gál (Slovakia)
21.5 BARACNICKA RYCHTA 19:00* (Tržiště 23, Praha 1-Malá Strana, www.baracnickarychta.cz/) Performances & readings by “Kollaps” [Jaroslav Rudiš, Alex Švamberg, Pavlína Medunová] (CZ), Todd Swift (Canada), Laura Conway (USA), Phil Shoenfelt (UK), Vanessa Fernandez (Singapore), Gaby Bila-Gunther (Berlin), Keston Sutherland (UK), Travis Jeppesen (USA), Šimon Šafránek (CZ), Schloss Tegal (USA)
22.5 MALOSTRANSKA BESEDA 19:00*
(Aréna Hostel, U Výstaviště 1, Praha 7) Featured readers: Gaby Bila-Gunther (Australia), Munayem Mayenin (UK/ (Malostranské náměstí 21, Praha 1-Malá Strana, www.mb.muzikus.cz/) Bengladesh), Oystein Hauge (Norway) Readings byAnselm Hollo (Finland), Kai Nieminen (Finland), Franz Josef Czernin (Austria), Charles Bernstein (USA), Trevor Joyce (Ireland), Drew Milne (UK), Tadeusz Pióro (Poland), Andrzej Sosnowski (Poland), Tomaž Šalamun (Slovenia)
18.5 SHAKESPEARE + SONS 20:00
*Entry to readings on the 21st and 22nd will be CZK 60,- All proceeds go to the performers and support crew. Events will continue from 19:00 until midnight. Please note that entry to all other events is free to the public (donations welcome).
Readings by “Wosky” [Huguette Vertogen] (Belgium), Martin Solotruk (Slovakia), Peter Sulej (Slovakia), Penelope Toomey (Slovakia), Vit Kremlicka (CZ), Martin Zet (CZ), Jeff Buehler (USA)
19.5 SHAKESPEARE + SONS 20:00 Readings by Stephen Rodefer (USA), Fritz Widhalm (Austria), Nichita Danilov (Romania), Cristina Cirstea (Romania), Sándor Kányádi (Hungary), Paul Sohar (USA)
1st prague international 16-22 MAY poetry 2002 festival 11 PLR2.3_final.PM6
Anselm Hollo was born in Helsinki, Finland. In his early twenties, he left Finland to live and work as a writer and translator, first in Germany and Austria, then in London, where he was employed by the BBC’s European Services in their Finnish Program from 1958 to 1967. Translations into Finnish from that time include Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and John Lennon’s In His Own Write. He is an Associate Professor in the Graduate Writing and Poetics Department at The Naropa Institute. Hollo has published more than thirty-five books and chapbooks of his poetry, most recently Corvus (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1995) and AHOE (Erie CO: Smokeproof Press, 1997). He has also translated many contemporary Finnish poets, among them Paavo Haavikko (Selected Poems 1949-1988, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1991) and Pentti Saarikoski (Trilogy: the last three books, Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1998), as well as fiction, plays, and poetry (by a.o. Brecht, Paul Klee, Genet, Blok, Louis Malle) from the German, French, Swedish, and Finnish. Hollo’s honors and awards include the New York State Creative Artists’ Public Service Award (1976), a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Poet’s Fellowship (1979), Fund for Poetry Awards for Contributions to Contemporary Poetry (1989, 1991), and a Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry 19951996 (1996).
CRISTINA CIRSTEA Cristina Cirstea was born in 1970 in Bucharest, Romania. Her books include We, the Sons of the Snail (Junimea, 1997) and Something to Remind Me of Myself (Cartier, 2000). She has won the Writers’ Union of Romania’s Iasi prize, the “Frontiera POESIS” literary review prize, The National Poetry Festival Award of Calarasi, The National Poetry Award of Sighetu Marmatiei and The National Poetry Award of Botosani. Her work has been included in The small anthology of Romanian poetry, (1997), City of Dreams and Whispers (Oxford-Portland USA, 1998, edited by Adam J. Sorkin), Three Decades of Romanian Poetry (Luceafarul, 1998), Junimea 90 (MLR, 1995) and the Eurydice Anthology (Pontica, 2003) She is a member of the Writers’ Union of Romania and the COPYRO Foundation. Cristina Cirstea
DREW MILNE Drew Milne is Judith E. Wilson Lecturer in Drama and Poetry at Cambridge University, and a fellow of Trinity Hall. His books include Marxist Literary Theory (ed. with Terry Eagleton; Blackwell, 1996) and The Damage: New and Selected Poems (Salt, 2001). He is the editor of Parataxis: Modernism & Modern Writing and associate editor of the PLR (Prague Literary Review).
Tadeusz Pióro was born in 1960. He currently teaches American literature at the English Department of the University of Warsaw and works at the Polish Publishing Institute. He is the author of Dom bez kantow (House without corners) (1992), Okeete (1993), Wiersze okolicznosciowe (Circumstantial Poems) (Lublin, 1997). His translations into Polish include texts by Ashbery, Firbank and Pound, while his translations into English include the Selected Poems of Tadeusz Borowski and Altered State: The New Polish Poetry (Arc, 1990). He has published six books of poetry.
His translations into Polish include selections from Erza Pound’s Cantos, a selection of John Ashbery’s poems, Ronald Firbank’s novel, The Flower Beneath the Foot and, with Tadeusz Pióro, Ashbery’s Three Plays and Firbank’s The Princess Zubaroff. He is the author of six books of poetry and two volumes of prose.
TODD SWIFT Todd Swift was born in Montreal, Canada in 1966. In 1990 he was nominated to the League of Canadian Poets, as a full member. In 1997 he moved to Budapest, Hungary where he founded the bilingual literary cabaret series, Kacat Kabare. He has had his work performed internationally, from Tokyo to New York, Panama City to Frankfurt. His work has appeared on ABC, BBC and CBC, among others. His poems have appeared in such journals as Gargoyle, Geist, Jacket, and Van Gogh’s Ear. He is editorial coordinator for US-based Poets Against The War. A full member of the WGC, he has recently optioned a film about the life of Irish patriot Emmet, and is developing a new screenwork on the life of Empson, with Peter Robinson. His books include Poetry Nation: The North American Anthology of Fusion Poetry (edited with Regie Cabico; Vehicule Press, Montreal, 1998); Budavox: poems 1990-1999 (DC Books, Montreal, 1999); Short Fuse: The Global Anthology of New Fusion Poetry (edited with Phil Norton; Rattapallax, New York, 2002); Cafe Alibi (DC Books, Montreal, 2002); 100 Poets Against The War (ed; Salt, Cambridge, 2003); as well as the spoken word/ musique actuelle CD Swifty Lazarus: The Envelope, Please (with Tom Walsh; Wired on Words, Montreal, 2002). He is poetry editor of www.nthposition.com and contributing editor for Matrix.
LOUIS ARMAND Louis Armand is an artist and writer who has lived and worked in Prague since 1994. His reviews, critical essays, poetry, fiction and translations have appeared in Sulfur, Meanjin, Frank, Poetry Review, Stand, Triquarterly, Culture Machine and Calyx: 30 Contemporary Poets, eds. Michael Brennan and Peter Minter (Sydney: Paper Bark Press, 2000). In 1997 he received the Max Harris prize for poetry at the Penola Festival (Adelaide), and more recently he was awarded the Nassau Review Prize, 2000 (New York). He is a member of the editorial boards of Rhizomes and the comparative studies journal Litteraria Pragensia, and editor of the PLR. His most recent books include The Garden (2001), Land Partition (2001), Inexorable Weather (Arc, 2001), Malice in Underland (Textbase, 2003), and Strange Attractors (Salt, 2003). He is currently Director of InterCultural Studies at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University.
SCHLOSS TEGAL Schloss Tegal (American sound artist Richard Schneider in collaboration with M.W. Burch) is one of the leading figures in post-industrial music, having experimented with ‘noise’ assemblages for over twenty years. Schloss Tegal’s first live concert in 1984 included writer William S. Burroughs and notorious noise terrorists White House. In 1990, Schloss Tegal released their first album The Soul Extinguished. Other albums include Oranur III “The Third Report” (1994) and Black Static Transmission (1999). Neoterrik Rsearch “The Hidden History of Schloss Tegal” is due out from Cold Spring Records in the UK. www.schlosstegal.com
KESTON SUTHERLAND Keston Sutherland
Keston Sutherland is a poet, producer of critical and philosophical essays, editor of QUID and (with Andrea Brady) of Barque Press (whose latest project was 100 Days, a collection of invectives against George W. Bush, featuring contributions from over 90 writers worldwide). His books include Mincemeat Seesaw (1999), [Bar Zero] (2000) and Antifreeze (2001). He is the editor of The Salt Companion to John Wilkinson.
ANDRZEJ SOSNOWSKI Andrzej Sosnowski (1959) lives in Warsaw, teaches American literature at the English Department of the University of Warsaw and is deputy editor-in-chief of Literatura na Swiecie.
MARTIN ZET On the 21st of June 2000, Czech artist Martin Zet went to an international art symposium that was organised in Bitola, Macedonia. Macedonian border authorities refused to issue him a visa in the airport of Skopje and took away his passport, although they agreed to give a visa to the other Eastern European artist coming to the same event through the same airport. Martin Zet, ignoring the fact, succeeded in entering the country without a passport. On his way back he was arrested as an illegal immigrant. It happened on the 30th of June. He was released after his friend who had some influence stepped in. On the 2nd of July, Martin Zet was again arrested on his second at-
Free Martin Zet
tempt to leave the country because his passport, returned by border authorities few days before, was missing some stamps. He was released an hour later and granted permission to leave Macedonia. Martin Zet came back home on the 3rd of July, but he does not feel free yet.
Tomaž Šalamun was born in 1941 in Zagreb, Croatia and raised in Koper, Slovenia. He has a degree in Art History from the University of Ljubljana, and before devoting himself to poetry he worked as a conceptual artist. He has published thirty collections of poetry in his home country and is recognized as one of the leading poets in Central Europe. Among his honours include the Preseren Fund Prize, the Jenko Prize, a Pushcart Prize, a visiting Fulbright to Columbia University, and a fellowship to the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He has also served as Cultural Attaché to the Slovenian Embassy in New York. Besides having his work appear in numerous journals internationally, he has had four collections of selected poetry published in English: The Selected Poems of Tomaz Salamun (Ecco Press, 1988); The Shepherd, the Hunter (Pedernal, 1992); The Four Questions of Melancholy (White Pine, 1997); and Feast (Harcourt Brace, 2000). He is married to the painter Metka Krasovec. A Ballad for Metka Krasovec is published by Twisted Spoon Press (2001).
NICHITA DANILOV Nichita Danilov
Nichita Danilov (b. 1952) is the author of seven books of poetry and three of prose. His debut volume was awarded the Romanian Writers’ Union Prize for First Books, and he has been awarded other prizes by the Writers’ Union in the Republic of Moldova and the Soros Foundation. Not ethnically Romanian, Danilov was raised speaking both Russian and Romanian, but writes solely in the latter language. In English his work has appeared in the anthologies Young Poets of a New Romania and City of Dreams and Whispers. He has previously worked as an accountant, theatre director, teacher, and for three years was Romania’s Cultural Attaché to the Republic of Moldova. A regular contributor to periodicals, he lives in Iasi where he is currently editor-inchief of a Romanian-Russian cultural magazine. Second-Hand Souls is published by Twisted Spoon Press (2003).
Sándor Kányádi was born in 1929 in the small Transylvanian village of Galambfalva to a family of farmers. Since 1950 he has lived in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) Romania. A graduate in Hungarian philology from Bólyai University, he has served as editor on a number of Hungarian-language journals and magazines. Since his first book of poetry appeared in 1955 he has published over a dozen volumes. His translation work includes both Saxon folk poetry and Yiddish folk poetry from Transylvania—in bilingual volumes—as well as contemporary Romanian poets and the major German and French poets of the 19th and 20th centuries. His is the recipient of the Poetry Prize of the Romanian Writers’ Union and the Kossuth Prize in Hungary, the pre-eminent literary awards of their respective countries, the Austrian Herder Prize, and the Central European Time Millennium Prize (2000). Kányádi now divides his time between Budapest and his cottage in the Transylvanian countryside. Dancing Embers is published by Twisted Spoon Press (2002).
VIT KREMLICKA Vít Kremlička (1962 Prague): Poet, prose writer, occasional journalist, from 1982-1985 Kremlička was a member of the band Národní třída and from 1986-1988 he played in the heavy-metal group His Boys. Before 1989 his work was published in samizdat and he was a co-founder of the influential cultural journal Jednou nohou (later Revolver Revue) as well as the Informační servis (later the weekly Respekt). He has published widely in journals, magazines and newspapers. His books include two volumes of prose: Lodní deník (for which he won the Jiří Orten Prize in 1991); Zemský
povídky (Hynek, 1999), three volumes of poetry: Cizrna (Torst, 1995); Staré zpěvy (Revolver Revue, 1997); Amazonia (Klokočí/ Knihovna Jana Drdy, 2003), and one collection of poetry and prose encompassing his work from 1995-2001: Prozatím (Petrov, 2001). Translations of his work have appeared abroad in a number of publications and a collection of his writing is forthcoming in English from Twisted Spoon Press.
PHIL SHOENFELT Phil Shoenfelt was born in Bradford, England, in December 1952. After colliding with the London punk scene in the mid-1970s, he moved to New York where he lived and played in several bands, such as Khmer Rouge, and was active on the downtown Manhattan arts scene. Returning to London in 1984, he continued making music until encroaching heroin addiction brought a temporary halt to all such activity. Finally kicking the habit after eleven years, he embarked upon a solo career and in 1995 moved to Prague, where he currently lives. In recent years he has produced several CDs with Southern Cross and with the Berlinbased group The Fatal Shore. His books include The Green Hotel/Zeleny Hotel (Prague: Mat’a Books, 1998) and Junkie Love, which was published in Prague by Twisted Spoon Press, 2001.
Phil Shoenfelt, by Barry Myles
LAURA CONWAY Laura Conway spent many years in San Francisco as poet, editor and publisher in its thriving poetry scene before moving to Prague in 1994. She is the author of four books of poetry including My Mama Pinned A Rose On Me (Red Flower Ink, 1987), and The Cities of Madame Curie (Zeitgeist Press, 1990), co-editor of a forthcoming Czech translation of 20 of San Francisco’s underground poets, & former editor of Optimism, a monthly Prague literary magazine. Her most recent publication is The Alphabet of Trees (Concordia Press, Prague, 2002) with collaborative artwork by Kateřina Pinosová.
ROD MENGHAM Rod Mengham is Reader in Modern English Literature at the University of Cambridge, where he is also Curator of Works of Art at Jesus College. He is the author of The Descent of Language (1993). He has edited collections of essays on contemporary fiction, violence and avant-garde art, and the fiction of the 1940s. He has written on art for various magazines and composes the catalogues for the biennial ‘Sculpture in the Close’ exhibition, at Jesus College, Cambridge. He is also the editor of the Equipage series of poetry pamphlets and co-editor and co-translator of Altered State: the New Polish Poetry (Arc Publications, 2003). His own poems have been published under the title Unsung: New and Selected Poems (Salt, 2001).
FRITZ WIDHALM Fritz Widhalm was born in 1956 in Feichsen, Austria, and currently lives in Vienna. His work spans performance, music, theatre and poetry. He has published numerous books, including Dieses Ufer ist rascher als ein Fluss! Des Verwicklungsromans erster Teil (with Ilse Kilic) (1999); Ich bin ganz normal (1995); and mr. elk & mr. seal (1999).
ROBERT GAL Róbert Gál was born in 1968 in Bratislava, Slovakia. Having resided in various cities as a student (Brno, Prague, New York, Jerusalem), he now lives in Prague where he lectures in philosophy at the Josef Skvorecký Literary Academy. He is the author of several books of aphorisms and philosophical fragments. His recent book of poetical aphorisms, Signs and Symptoms, is published in Prague by Twisted Spoon Press (2003).
TREVOR JOYCE Born in Dublin 1947, Trevor Joyce co-founded New Writers’ Press in Dublin with Michael Smith, and edited the influential journal, The Lace Curtain until the mid-70s. His poems have appeared internationally in many journals, and he has published eleven volumes of
poetry, including The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine (1976), his working of the middle-Irish Buile Suibhne, and stone floods (1995), which was nominated for the Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry. All these books have come through small presses, where openness to invention compensates for lack of publicity, wide distribution or commercial promotion. Much of Joyce’s recent work reaches beyond the conventional medium of the printed page, and explores possibilities of writing in the new electronic media and in association with other disciplines. His collected poems, with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold (NWP & Shearsman Books) and the audio CD Red Noise of Bones (Coelacanth & Wild Honey Press) appeared in 2001. He has also published several papers on contemporary poetics, and has lectured and given public readings of his work throughout Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S.A. Founder and director since 1997 of SoundEye: The Cork International Poetry Festival, he served as Writer in Residence for Cork County Council, 2001, and for NUIG, 2001-2002, and was Fulbright Scholar, at Boston College, Massachussetts, in 2002-2003, researching specific overlaps between science, history, and both traditional and innovative poetic form.
GABY BILA+GUNTHER Gaby Bila-Günther is a Berlin based writer who has also worked extensively in Melbourne, Australia (1995-2002). She is a former administrator of the Victorian College of the ARTS, and a Radio Programmer for 3CR’s Accent of Women programme, a show about multicultural women’s affairs.
Born in 1964, Martin Reiner-Pluhaček is a Czech poet and director of the Brno-based publishing house, Petrov, the Czech Republic’s leading poetry publisher. His books include Relata refero (1991), Poslední rok (1995), Decimy (1996), Tání chuze (1998) and a volume of prose Lázně (1998). His most recent volume of poetry is Staré a jiné časy (Host, 2002).
Ales Debeljak graduated in comparative literature from the University of Ljubljana and received his Ph.D. in Social Thought from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, New York. A number of volumes of his poetry have been published in English translation, including Anxious Moments (White Pine Press, Fredonia, NY: 1994), Dictionary of Silence (Lumen Press, Santa Fe, NM: 1999) and The City and the Child (White Pine Press, Buffalo, NY: 1999). His non-fiction books include Twilight of the Idols: Recollections of a Lost Yugoslavia (White Pine Press, Fredonia, NY: 1994) and Reluctant Modernity: The Institution of Art and its Historical Forms (Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham-New York-London: 1998) and a comprehensive anthology The Imagination of Terra Incognita: Slovenian Writing 19451995 (White Pine Press, Buffalo: 1997) which he edited. He received the Preseren Foundation Prize (Slovenian National Book Award) and Miriam Lindberg Israel Poetry for Peace Prize-Tel Aviv and Chiqyu Poetry Prize, Tokyo and was named Ambassador of Scholarship of the Republic of Slovenia. Debeljak teaches at the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Ljubljana and directs the Centre for Religious and Cultural Studies.
VINCENT FARNSWORTH Vincent Farnsworth aka Reverend Feedback is the front man for Black Mummy. His publications include a volume of poetry with Lavender Ink press in New Orleans, entitled Immortal Whistleblower (2001).
GWENDOLYN ALBERT Gwendolyn Albert is a poet and translator, and formerly editor of the Prague-based literary periodical Jejune. She is a tireless advocate for human rights within the Czech Republic and elsewhere in the former Soviet Bloc. In 1999 she translated Baradla Cave by Eva Svankmajerová, for Twisted Spoon Press.
ODILLO STRADICKY ZE STRDIC Czech poet Odillo Stradický ze Strdic was born in Rychnově nad Kněžnou in 1968. His numerous books include several prose volumes: Obojí pramen (1992), Admirál čaj (1996) and Fosfen (2001) and poetry: První kost božího těla (1998), Zpěv motýlu (1999) and most recently Černý revolver týden (Petrov, 2004).
JAROSLAV PIZL Jaroslav Pížl was born in 1961 in Prague and studied art history at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University. He has worked for both television and radio and has taught in the Drama Department of the Ježka Conservatoire. His books include Manévry (1992), Exteriéry (1994), Vodní hry (1998) and Rodinný život (Petrov, 2000).
VANESSA FERNANDEZ Vanessa Fernandez is the lead singer for the Singapore-based hiphop group Urban Exchange.
SIMON SAFRANEK Šimon Šafránek is a Czech writer and artist living in Berlin. He has recently published a bilingual collection of stories, Fiery Wheels. The Prague International Poetry Festival will also feature KOLLAPS [Jaroslav Rudiš, Alex Švamberg, Pavlína Medunová] (Czechia/Germany); VIT KREMLICKA (Czechia); DES$ MOND KON (Singapore); WOSKY [HUGUETTE VERTONGEN] (Belgium); PETER SULEJ (Slovakia); MARTIN SO$ LOTRUK (Slovakia); NOELLE PERERA (Singapore); PAUL SOHAR (USA); PENELOPE TOOMEY (Slovakia); MUNAYEM MAYE$ NIN (UK/Bengladesh); OYSTEIN HAUGE (Norway) ... See previous and following pages for CHARLES BERNSTEIN (USA); SUDEEP SEN (India); KAI NEIMINEN (Finland); FRANZ JOSEF CZERNIN (Austria); TRAVIS JEPPE$ SEN (USA); and STEVEN RODEFER (USA).
VERA CHASE Šimon Šafránek
Věra Chase was born in and currently lives in Prague, Czech Republic. A graduate of the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, her writing has appeared in various magazines and newspapers internationally. Her novel, Vášen pro broskve, was the winner of the 1997 Czech Book Award. “Sunday Mail” was selected and translated from Hypnoskop, a collection of her short stories published by Prostor (Prague, 1999). Her two books of poetry—Eyeberries/ Bobule and Bodypainting/Telokresba—are bilingual. Her most recent book is a bilingual collection of poetry & prose, entitled Štava, published by Labyrint, Prague (2001). In 1998 she received a UNESCO grant to write in India, and from 1993-2000 was an editor of the bilingual journal Jedním okem/One Eye Open.
CHARLES BERNSTEIN Among Charles Bernstein’s more than twenty books of poetry are With Strings (University of Chicago Press, 2001), Republics of Reality: 1975-1995 (2000), Dark City (1994), Rough Trades (1991), The Nude Formalism (1989), Stigma (1981), Legend (with Bruce Andrews, Steve McCaffery, Ron Silliman, Ray DiPalma, 1980), and Parsing (1976). He is also the author of three books of essays, My Way: Speeches and Poems (1999), A Poetics (1992), and Content’s Dream: Essays 1975-1984 (1986). He has edited many anthologies of poetry and poetics including Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word (1998) and The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (1984, with Bruce Andrews). In the 1970s, Bernstein cofounded the influential journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. He has also written the librettos for a number of operas with composers such as Ben Yarmolinsky, Brian Ferneyhough, and Dean Drummond. Bernstein serves as the Executive Editor, and co-founder, of The Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY-Buffalo. His honors and awards include the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, he is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Bricklayer’s Arms The bricklayer’s arms are folded into a knot. They crest across a soft, rumpled body. The bricklayer’s arms—stolid and serene—are out of joint with the quizzical expression on the bricklayer’s face. The bricklayer’s arms are heavy and slump into a wingback chair or threadbare sofa or petulant carousel or dithyrambic telescope. The bricklayer’s arms are molten, moulded, mottled, mirrored, mired in unclaimed histories of insufficient estimation. The bricklayer’s arms float into suspended air; glow, from an inner right, in cascades of slate, beacons of broken guile. They are patched, poked, pummelled, pent; averse to what has been, oblivious to what will come. The bricklayer’s arms disappear behind a cloud, then return soft-focus, dusk-lit, gauzy, tipped. The bricklayer’s arms refuse to tell the secret of the bricklayer’s house. The bricklayer’s arms abjure exposure, encapsulate the brokered seams of a riven dream, permissible to a few, particular to none. The bricklayer’s arms court detachment, reflect closure. The bricklayer’s arms arm themselves against denial, parry promise, absorb abjection. In the torn time between never and however, they dissolve into the formaldehyde of the heart’s lost longing. The bricklayer’s arms found a moment in the quicksilver of immaterial solids: perception as flight against charter, ballast, cynosure. Falling into shadow, the bricklayer’s arms, knees, neck, mouth, scalp, shins, stomach, eyes
blend into storm, cloud, sand, crystal, fork, bend, bay, sag, sigh, coast. The bricklayer’s arms are charms of a parallel coexistence, emblem of fused incalculability. They lie low in gummed silhouette, fly when floored, sing in phrases to the apparent drumbeat of incurious imbrication. Solo flight marked of bygones, tattered torrents, embers of desuetude, the bricklayer’s arms peal a dull and sombre tune. The bricklayer’s arms break the silence of the bricklayer’s heart. The bricklayer’s arms are every bit as dense as the vague mist that obscures the furnished hold of the bricklayer’s sight. The bricklayer’s arms are the imperfect extension of the bricklayer’s thoughts. No sea contains them, no forest is as deep or sky as boundless as the bounded continent of the bricklayer’s arms. The bricklayer’s arms signify nothing, but never cease to mean. Even the smallest grain of sand tunes itself to their contours. The bricklayer’s arms are empirical evidence of the existence of the bricklayer’s soul. The bricklayer’s arms are lost in reverie’s pale, sad, lush illusions; snap back from the blind eye or the quick retort to sail into helplessness’s velour paradise. The bricklayer’s arms are a figment of the imagination of the bricklayer’s shoulders. Buoyed by incapacity, sufficient to expectation, they are the final destination of helpless promises and muted aspirations. The bricklayer’s arms are blanched in disavowal. Without preparation, the bricklayer’s arms enfold the beached drives and mercurial generosity the age remands. Atlas of the forsaken mall of final detours, harbinger of ill-timed hums and oft-lorn wings, the bricklayer’s arms are stamped by the artifice of token and projection. The bricklayer’s arms cradle the soul of the lost world.
In Particular I admit that beauty inhales me but not that I inhale beauty—Felix Bernstein My lack of nothingness—the genie in the candy store
A black man waiting at a bus stop A white woman sitting on a stool A Filippino eating a potato A Mexican boy putting on shoes A Hindu hiding in igloo A fat girl in blue blouse A Christian lady with toupee A Chinese mother walking across a bridge A Pakistani eating pastrami A provincial walking on the peninsula A Eurasian boy on a cell phone An Arab with umbrella A Southerner taking off a backpack An Italian detonating a land line A barbarian with beret A Lebanese guy in limousine A Jew watering petunias A Yugoslavian man at a hanging A Sunni boy on scooter A Floridian climbing a fountain A Beatnik writing a limerick A Caucasian woman dreaming of indecision A Puerto Rican child floating on a balloon An Indian fellow gliding on three-wheeled bike An Armenian rowing to Amenia An Irish lad with scythe A Bangladeshi muttering questions A worker wading in puddles A Japanese rollerblader fixing a blend A Burmese tailor watching his trailer An Idaho man getting a tan A Quinnipiac girl with a bluesy drawl An Arapahoe whaler skimming failure
An anorexic man with a remarkably deep tan An adolescent Muslim writing terza rima A Scots pipe fitter at the automat A gay guy in tweed boat A red man with green ball A dyslexic sailor with an inconsolable grin A Northumbrian flier heading for Tipperary A Buddhist financier falling to ground A curious old boy jumping into threshing machine An Hispanic sergeant on lookout for a creamcoloured coat An addicted haberdasher eating soap A Peruvian child chewing gum A Sephardic infant on shuffleboard deck A Mongolian imitating Napoleon An anarchist lad with skewed glance A Latvian miner break dancing with the coroner A poor girl eating apple pie and cream soda A Sudanese fellow with a yellow stroller An atheist with a flare for pins A Bahamanian on the way to inordinate machination A stuttering Iranian in blue and gold fog A tell-tale somnambulist rehearsing Gypsy A homosexual child in a taxi A Wiccan matron swimming in glue A Moravian procrastinator practicing jujitsu A Syrian swami on Lake Oragami A flirtatious gentleman spinning wool A coloured youngster admiring a toaster An Ojibwa pushing a button on the Trans-Siberian A harried officer somersaulting on banister A mouldy Whig directing catfish An agoraphobic professor on cruise control A feminist in a rocking chair A Burmese cook in bobby socks A teenager infiltrating an air mattress A pro-choice guy reciting rimes A dog-faced Dane in shining car A Pentecostal lawyer jogging in his foyer A communist wearing a sad apron A Canadian woman with a nose ring A ghoulish girl dating a dentist An idiot in a closet A Moorish magician in her kitchen A sorrowful soldier with a morose clothier A dilettantish senior washing strictures A socialite on routine imbroglio A bicyclist hoarding hornets A toddler pocketing the till A hooded boy eating cheddar cheese A balding brownnoser in tutu A brunette chasing choo-choo train An Argentine dancing on a dime A bespeckled dowager installing Laplink An australopithecine toddler grimacing in basement A Nicaraguan pee-wee with preposterous pipe A kike out cold on ice A Hoosier off the booze A swollen man with an impecunious grin A Burmese fellow with face of terror A lost poll in the forest A dilapidated soul drinking rum A pistolero with folded heart A Shockwave momma hunkering down on puck A vellobound baby two-facing the cha-cha A postcolonial fiduciary eating a plum A maladroit Swede coughing bullets A hexed Haitian on involuntary vacation A Persian oncologist in metrical parking A Peruvian French hornist sipping Pernod A Terra Haute charmer with infinite capacity to harm her A Mongolian chiropodist at a potluck A Săo Paulo poet reflecting on deflection A white man sitting on stool A black woman waiting at bus stop
Didn’t We Inch by inch, the paths breaking into patches of blue and green then black and brown, then over the pass to the top of the remotest interior, accustomed as we are to torrential indifference and beatific familiarity. “Look up in the sky”—another ad for vinyl tubing, pillow talk of
Whosits & Whatsits of Nob & Kebob, Insley & Ufragious, Ackabag & Boodalip. Bump right along, pondering your song, while roasting toast or grinding sand or polishing the fabric softener that stands between you and your self. It was in 1943 and then again one more time. Beat bird without a feather to call its own, a miser who lives on a pile of mylar, the studio with the view of the studio, my eclectric blinker maker, strapped in for take off. NO FLOATING quiet as
ALLOWED . As
the steps to indelible vanishing.
The Folks Who Live on the Hill It’s still the same old lorry. Astronaut meets Mini-Me in a test tube in Rome, Regis spurns Veronica, Merv buys casino, goes to another season, but in the previous year. The crab cakes were never as fresh again but it continued to pour even after the flood expired. Anyhow, spoilage is never as bad as outright chicanery. Follow the rules then go straight to the linen closet for folding. For example, the cedar chest on Pine street, or the thumb wrestle of a misplaced mid-afternoon, competitively anchored in java applets for the price of a used backhoe. Hey! What’s the use in a clothespin when you haven’t got even the idea of a line? “And Darby and Joe, who used to be Jack and Jill …”
One More for the Road Like comedy never strikes the same place More than a couple of times unless you Change costumes and dance with me, dance Till the furniture turns to props and All the mops are a chorus of never Before heard improbabilities, honeyed alibis For working too hard, mowing the Astroturf, Cranking the permafrost, watering the microprocessors On the kids’ conveyor belts. The bird never Flies as high as an old-fashioned kick In the carbonisation.—They gave me till Friday to let them know if the job would Ever be complete. We’re getting there, just Fall a little further behind by day And after dark it’s a mule’s paradise. In a Restless World Like This Is Not long ago, or maybe I dreamt it Or made it up, or have suddenly lost Track of its train in the hocus pocus Of the dissolving days; no, if I bend The turn around the corner, come at it From all three sides at once, or bounce the ball Against all manner of bleary-eyed fortune Tellers—well, you can see for yourselves there’s Nothing up my sleeves, or notice even Rocks occasionally break if enough Pressure is applied. As far as you go In one direction, all the further you’ll
Have to go on before the way back has Become totally indivisible.
dusk: the sum of entropy and elevation.
Ghost of a Chance The silent ending came as fast as the cold click of a Berreta. In those years, before the war, it was the custom. An entry point could always be found—a ways down the road, hidden by the side of a steel-grey tool shed, or in warehouses near the waterfront. The days always went like that. And if the money was in the wrong horse race at least it would be kept quiet, for a while. The perfume smell was all but unendurable, when the door opened and the room flooded with neon and icecold air. Behind the camera the men joked about the almost bitter coffee.
The rink around the posing is closed for retrofitting. Refurbishment is just around the hospital coroner. If bald, bring hat; if not, ignore this sentence but be sure to complete the rest of the lines in the poem before going on to part four. Rubber replacements are available on the third consecutive level.
Tony takes it in his intestine, the sharp pain in his body like ripples in a sand dune, his face exquisitely detached from any sign of the sensation. What are you fighting for? The market plunges, savings slip away like a greased pig in a taffy pull. Sometimes the easiest thing is just to stop thinking about it. Then it can just think you. Depending on the angle of incline and the rate of decomposition. Wives to each other, husbanding the fear that feeds upon itself and its prey. Doesn’t that count for something, even
Gel before warp speed.
in these pitched accommodations?
Intends by onset to skip over busted rhymes
Overcome fears of cloning by using patent leather shoes.
What are you fighting for?
Like a snail coats its belly with preconscious Worm-envy on a plate engaging its met mat, The gnat her pinky ring. One sting more
Don’t sail boat without buckets of water.
And the wave goes on periverbal autodeterrent
And in the shank of the evening, gather all available stems but refute closure.
“Things are what they are, but we are never what we are,” she said as she wrapped the sandwich in plastic and tucked away the tears in a flute.
Stranger in Paradise
“No it’s things. They hourly change before our eyes while we stay stuck in who we are and where we have been.”
Sunset at Quaquaversal Point
Chin by the tension fanner, two for fiveFifty, lend me a lip retractor. Gosh, I’m Gonna have to get you later, for now Hold that thoughtlessness one more beat. At the end of the day the pegs left standing Form an arc around the moat till the rooster Comes home with the mocking birds. Then
What are you fighting for?
Lost in Drowned Bliss
“Call them clamdiggers if you like, but I’d Say her pants shrunk or she just got real tall All of a sudden.” The bus came late, left Early—when all our cares were theirs. LingerIng by the gate of another fly swat, Possum fry, lateral dodge. “My balloon
Fill the balloons with ludic runes and I will Is stuck and I need someone to get it
“Or what we see is no more a part of us than the baby who beckons from the forest: we splinter in the void to catch the light, then hail the sparks as paradise.”
Sudeep Sen was born in New Delhi in 1964. He has written, translated and edited over 30 books, including Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins)—nominated for a Pushcart Prize (USA). Most recently, he has published Postcards from Bangladesh, Monsoon, Prayer Flag, Distracted Geographies, and edited the anthology Midnight’s Grandchildren: Post-Independence English Poetry from India. His writings have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Guardian, Independent, London Magazine, among others. He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS; on the editorial boards of The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Dimui, and Six Seasons Review; and an associate of The Paris Review.
Flame in Your Heart
Jacket on a Chair
As slow as Methuselah and as old as
You carelessly tossed the jacket on a chair. The assembly of cloth
“Things are solid; we stumble, unglue, recombine.”
molasses, time passes but nobody ever does anything about it—the soda water at the club on Tuesday so much more fishy than it used to be and the giant marmoset in the bedroom wants more cookies and milk before fading into memory’s skipped disk. Once you came to me in a shadow and I don’t know how to count the years
collapsed in slow motion into a heap of cotton— cotton freshly picked from the fields— like flesh without a spine. The chair’s wooden frame provided a brief skeleton,
since, since counting is just the thing I
Charles Bernstein in Money, directed by Henry Hills, 1985
Take her with mine left and lose her with mine Right. Focus, then bend, the bear to the north Wind, with sullen yet courageous élan. Surcease
Down.” As if the trees torched the sky and the Boiler ran on lost facts. Depend upon
Surcease—with a sneeze & a pleat & a pike, a
It, lest it depend on you, whom the sun Has never touched nor the mist betrayed. Turning tales into tokens the moment
Spat & a spore, then no more. It’s over & Over & then it’s not, as long as you never— Well sometimes endeavour—as long as you
The fire hydrant slides in safe at left Field. Drunk with promiselessness, fat on tears. Capris? Isn’t that when whimsy gets lucky?
am learning not to do. Your bracelet adorns your wrist like a knight in ardour crying for a key to the tumbledown cabin on the dunes. A bonnet repairs what the billy-goat embargos—ocean of this close and then again, until all the folds are rounded into the bend. And we meet, like actors in a made-for-TV mini-series, at the end of a pier on a blind alley or
Never, as long as ever, say never nor ever again
What are you fighting for? The men move
decisively toward the execution chamber. Joey takes aim but muffles his fire.
prior strength, or the muscle to hold its own. When one peels off One’s outer skin, it is difficult to hide the true nature of blood. Wood, wool, stitches, and joints— an epitaph
out to be Bayonne. You’re there in the final scene and so am I but we don’t recognise each other because we’ve gone beyond
of a cardplayer’s shuffle, and the history
all that. Then the signal blasts with
of my dark faith.
only lore. What are you fighting for? The sirens
unendurable music and we collapse into the sound, into ourselves as make-believe
cry wolf to the obedient masses who sway, hysterical, in synch to the boys on the back streets and the ladies of mourning.
as any devout hugamug with a hankering
Brushing up fate pixel by pixel, burnishing
You gotta girl now, Dave? spills out to summer’s plain completion, the auguries of trounced and trudged, a minute away from destabilisation, “dangerously low resources,” time to shut down.
on a steamship or in a crowded piazza in an unidentifiable Italian city that turns
but it wasn’t enough to renew the coat’s shape, the body’s
Overhead, the crescent moon cracks the unbroken sky. A moth beats its wings against the closed door—intransigence its
But not the radio, not the radiator, not the true-love plug-in, not the defector detector. When in a race with cartoons and French fries, spackle before
for infinite finitude: Just a walk down the street of the imaginary enclosure that becomes real
through the attic’s double-glazing melting the scorched ink
1. It is mid-afternoon now, the sun streaks slant wards
in my crowded note-book that lies blanched
This can’t be hubris, hubris never lasts this long. But what, then, is it? Whatever I say, I immediately think that I know better, and then I try to humiliate myself. If I was split in two, one half could go into politics, the other into academia: I would find ways to get them into debates, ex cathedra and on television. Back home, I would zip them together again and clean out their wallets for our joint account. But as things are, only ideas are arguing, not men, and that is worse than useless: I consume wine for two and double my hangovers. The worst thing about it is that every victory is a painful defeat.
on the sparse weathered table. Hardened sepia-stained lines that once approximated to a flock of metaphors, now rearrange themselves into a congregation of phrases, a lineation of new line-breaks: stops that defy even the physics of refraction, thoughts that now re-surface
A poor person may be happy not because he is poor but because he sometimes forgets that he is poor. A rich person is happy whenever he remembers that he is rich.
and resurrect just as passion and reverence did within the folds of The Prophet. 2. It is still mid-afternoon, the blue blaze makes the pages of my book flip over gently in the invisible wind of silence. The heat penetrating the glass focuses even more fiercely smoking out redolent similes, questioning the whole point, the nib of writing itself. Underneath the permanent scar of jet-black fluid and heat is pulp, half-dead. Beneath the persistent hoarsedrone of metal-scratching is bleached pulp, half-alive, its cotton laid sheets carefully encoded with the magic arc of a gold-tip. Words appear, and more words. And under them all, I discover much later, a small spring insect that lay mummified, quietly crushed below
KAI NIEMINEN Kai Neiminen is a poet and translator specialising in Japanese literature. Since 1978 he has published 15 books of poetry, and 30 translations from Japanese (poems, novels, short stories, plays). He currently lives near the Baltic Sea, 75 kilometres east of Helsinki. The following selection is taken from Serious Poems (Vakavia runoja ) (Minneapolis: Rain Taxi, 2000) translated by Anselm Hollo.
Serious Poems These are serious matters. Truly serious. I stay up nights, thinking about them. Sometimes I think that if only I had the call to be a preacher, I would leave everything and go out to preach. But, lacking both gift and calling ... Poets are wrong about poetry, readers are wrong about poetry. Critics are right about poetry: it’s just idle prattle from past decades. Critics are wrong about criticism, artists are wrong about criticism. Secretaries of State are right about criticism: there’s no need to give a shit. Politicians are wrong about politics, the media are wrong about politics. All of us are right about politics: it’s the wrong actions taken at the wrong time.
the weight of words, its innocence and juice trapped under oppression of ambition and intellect, baptised and bloodied.
Economists are wrong about the economy, consumers are wrong about the economy. The rich are right about the economy, that’s one secret they’ll never reveal to us. Farmers are wrong about agriculture, labourers are wrong about agriculture. Cows are right about agriculture: eat what’s in front of you, let them milk you dry.
3. It is mid-afternoon, and I too lie, dead-
Good evening, you men of our forests, you unemployed, shaky, grown-old-while- stillyoung lumberjack studs bored senseless in your suburban housing! If you are still alive, we would like to cheer you up by reminding you that the wind still blows through those pines, and more are being planted. Thank you for getting out of prosperity’s way, into disability, into the files, some of you into the grave. Now you can brew some good strong coffee and watch a nice documentary on Channel Two about plans to preserve the Amazon rain forest.
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For Sei Shonagon Things of which there is never enough: Alcohol. Women. Except that if there is enough alcohol, no women are necessary. Even when there is enough alcohol, or women, there is never enough time. Time is always in short supply. And when it runs out altogether, it is simply forever. After tucking me in she sat down on the edge of the bed and read from the famous fairytale teller’s book “The Great Narratives Have Come to an End.” It was such fun, I recognized every character. And what’s best, it never seems to end. Power is not a metaphysical entity. Neither is Evil. That is why Power and Evil do not walk hand in hand. Power manifests itself in concrete actions. Evil, too, manifests itself in concrete actions. Actions are, as often as not, simple and understandable. Goodness is a more complicated matter. It is not a metaphysical entity either but it does not necessarily manifest itself in concrete actions. Quite frequently it manifests itself in inaction. But who can tell whether a good person has intentionally left something undone, or whether the doing of it never even occurred to him or her? Perhaps Goodness does not exist and there is only avoidance of Evil. Unruliness, on the other hand, clearly does not exist: Unruliness arises from the absence of the rules of Power. And that is why Goodness and Unruliness may very well walk hand in hand.
still, blanched, bloodied.
The End of History Penumbra The sun came back out from behind the deep-folded rain clouds after many days of ruffled uncertain light. It emerged robed in tethered linen, just the way I held the sky in my hand like a piece of crumpled paper. Bands of deep blue didn’t seem to interfere with the whites, and the cotton patches which were so transient, moved at the slightest hint of breeze. I released the paper from my fist, tried to iron out the creases, but couldn’t. The folds had created a new terrain, just as the clouds in the sky never repeat the same pattern over, ever.
Well, history’s finished, said Uncle Erik. Oh dear, it’s finished is it, said Mother, what shall we do now? Well, I thought I’d go to town tomorrow, said Erik, I just might buy a new one. Don’t bother, said Father, we’ll make one ourselves. A man who’s good with his hands knows how to make a history for himself. I suppose, said Mother, that might be less expensive. And I suppose it’ll do, for our own use. As soon as they see how equitably the market economy functions, the people feel much better: Someone who was a multimillionaire a year ago has now lost it all. Nevertheless, thanks to a built-in grace, he does not have to give up anything. We don’t demand from others what we demand from ourselves. We don’t demand anything from ourselves, but from others we demand what they demand from us, against our will. There has to be some justice, after all, and a tooth for a tooth.
Water: Sonnets the sea, it is cruised loudly in its own name, as water storms in the glass, to hover ahead as an opening, as all the foams deck themselves out with lips, so that water shows our colours, fermented together its image as an eye: of blue self that pents up in us, to fill gaze to the brim, as we raise into the sea, scooping up from bed to swell, we also flowing give to the sea, word to the waves that purely sees our course: the whole sail is struck, struck out and stroked with paint, at every point, so that tears and drops run through each other, to bring to us, as if from a bucket, in a boat,
FRANZ JOSEF CZERNIN Franz Josef Czernin was born in Vienna in 1952 and is the author of many poems, prose works, plays and essays. He studied in the USA from 1971-3 and taught at the University of Indiana in 1988. Since 1980 he has lived in the Steiermark district of Austria, in Rettenegg. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Vienna Prize for Literature (1997), the Heimito-von-Doderer Prize for Literary Essays (1998), the Anton Wildgans Prize (2003) and most recently the HeimradBäcker Prize for Literature (2003). He recently participated in the 14 t h international Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry. His books include: Ossa und Pelion (1979); Anna und Franz. Mundgynmastik und Jägerlatein. Fünf Sonette (1982); Die Kunst des Sonetts (1985); Sechs Tote Dichter. Aufsätze zur Literatur (on Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Raoul Hausmann, Reinhard Priessnitz, Georg Trakl and Robert Musil) (1992); Ein Gewand (with James Brown) (1992); Sonette, Elemente (2002); and Briefe zu Gedichten (with Hans-Jost Frey) (2003). The poems included here are from the series Elements, Sonnets, translated by the British poet Andrew Duncan.
Elements, Sonnets Earth, Sonnet 1. so I let me us be nailed fast to it, patched from matter turn bloody thing, screwed, yes, even together as bone-hard as wooden; how stilted it limps, decorates us with mistake, mouth crooked I rip, to stem you with crutches, even rags: painfully dented, tangled, you ironly let me, so clumsily go from our glue in ruins, let me coarsely come, where unhandily we cross sticking to each other, yes, rear up,
connecting as divagating: blazing up now to go through our own fire, almost scattered out of the harness, yes, the guides, but bringing this to a point to run the rounds: to give us, take us, rise over head and throat and hand, around to transfer and leap across, but literally too to hold it as it happens, almost without reins, ourselves completely rapt.
yes, loosing the oars, blade, with this tongue: it shows and tells water-level with the source, which grips in things and between strokes, lines: does this satisfy the rule?
where oreless stone, yes, slag, coarse matter, blindly the trash throws itself around, in a single heap, bustling up to us to shake sense into its dirty self, out of such a mouth it offends and blackens, covers in dust, mixing everything up.
full measure, shake up, fizz up churn this up from bottom, stokes, as sharp for it, hot, forcing itself through itself, until it reaches the level, boils up, burns the mouth, the throat, so that all this flares up, splashes out, kindling and exploding itself.
stormily brewing together it wells up cloudily, breaks foam and crowns with it, boils up there to let itself out, steam off too, swell hotly fizzes and seethes over, pours itself out, so that we down in it, in the wet. but this vessel holds tight, though are sour, wild for it, in the must, master it, enrich, thronging the masses mix us in, themselves rolled over, but always in the picture, contain transmutingly in, compose together. how us are violently piped in, squeezed in, with it, where ripely clearness, sweet taste of it acquired around, we shed light to the depth, but fearfully veered round,
setting fire to itself, tongues talking, feed flames, sleeked at this command, as the glow knows itself, see ourselves painfully melted and refined,sharp of hearing, as high tone merely makes itself out, cooling suds pour their own vessel: whether in the light going on, settling, in our name gold rests silently on itself? ***
as splendidly as painfully, fortunately and benignly to it, at once ourselves finishing our ferment, just poured in, in the last drop are cold and composed, set.
from the fair weather, worshipping, clearly raise ourselves, so that every glint of it, breath, has us, swings up, as smelling sweetly, composedly, played first, dawn on, but too alit, and high flying, circle many times.
savouring prank in, devote ourselves richly subdivided, what beckons me to squander flames and tongues, splendidly dissolves; easily chosen light to strive towards us, laid down for me honestly but so clearly, out of the blue:
what flows beneath and foams over, I convey through you, the water lets us reach so high and deep, where it carries itself over flowing, yet in receding connects places as what is common for every hand, places I let rain there, underground, over the measure, through the nets; what, our swell, runs down in all the hoses, over new through you, I look out of ponds with wet eyes, so that treasures are whispered into our ears between the lines, that beckon water going into water, under, over us, roars so truly with wine, that will soon pour itself, pure, there under the surface, it always
Franz Josef Czernin
the flames, draw the circle: are stuff, that’s fuel as it burns, blazing the trail, as fiery weeps us up the speech, kick free of what dartingly spreads over us, overruns us from head to tail, but bridled too, that this wrenches free
swivels towards you, overdue for me, word stands there up to its neck: as it throngs up murmuring beautifully, makes our mouth water already, until soon drink reaches you.
all the impetus frolics lured out for us, but flexibly, as inclined, to catch fire itself, easily carried away to a starry point; we enthuse but, too, pliantly through all this are confluent into all that sets ablaze are entangled, steadily to furthest bows, as if cuddling up, remain drawn all around, completely in consideration.
air sonnets full of glory, high-hearted painting from us altogether, the building erects itself physically, extensively laid and set out, in graded richness of many layers to shape to me it also grips spaces secretly, head dumb, stamps stonily, reverentially so intended; worked into your flesh you densen me, so that we form a face for each other, where splendidly it carries me, ritually body, over you, so heavily weighted from depths it echoes halls back, moves to rest
Fire, Sonnets sonnet with steeds kindling us ourselves, but scraped raw, made wild by all this matter, so bity, chafed hot by it, painfully tensing and spurring on this, fanned by it, unchains us, but standing too, firm in the saddle, amid
on what pillars, arches! as, as a whole, on draughts accessible to me, but this canopy rises over us too, raises run in loop on loop, reveals, not only kept quiet, the point, so high: around you resound, put me on a par with you, faintly enact me, so that from the ground up we fit together: a light going on, this house edifies and sustains us.
so that wildly this splashes out: it stitches us up bodily from head to foot, hammers home, to crown with splinters on the leaf, pierce me with staves, till defoliated,
each other hide, uproots with skin, hair, are laid bare from teeth to toes, dusts every pore, nothing slips through the mesh: how thorny this reconciliation!
as it shrills, blows on me, am startled up, detected, trumpeted out myself decrying turn through myself, washed around, twinged with pain am touched in thunderstruck hurling away make everything whizz, whistle for it until it, rallied, seizes me, beats, zooms away, snatches me along and plucks me, evaporates me, that I stand, no, am already blown away, always on another page, astray, dispiriting me, lost the tune, out of earshot, yes, the squall
2. this coat grown into flesh, in which I am deeply sunk, so that it, blooming with stuffs, unfolds splendidly for us, seems gorgeous, beautifully staining; like a veil it constructs me, but in that decorates us, steers in its earthly presence
sweeps far, away…remain suspended, air lying like a circle describing itself, interprets itself through me, as in far resonance air castles take my weight
and governs: shawls are hung on me around layers, so that every syllable presses the other, sensibly splits us, so that it scatters the blossoms, this so stars us, embrace, painfully cloaking prettifies us, but turns us out well!
at the high point it lets us hear and sound all this, until wind allays and expounds itself, grows quiet. so freshly silenced, does word hold its breath on us, to restring me?
how darkly to please, transfers this to us each other as a model, as the hand is given out, penetrated by it, give itself away, is laid down as bare as a robe, out dust, in our names: how we are entangled at the core so heartily and factually, until, though freshly minted, this bursts out, with every thread bare, unravelled.
Stephen Rodefer, Ham and Squeek to Go, 2004
Who I Am
Is Clytemnestra younger than Germaine When the war was over? Did she have any babies With Aegisthus? Did Aegis sleep with Electra Or for that matter with Orestes? See what I’m driving at? Is not Selena meant to show Dionysus a thing or two Above the single knee? Can I Watch at least if not drink? I am King Nunce and You my dear Are my Instructress. I am eager To learn. I am various. I am avid. Who are base. A little on the heavy Side because of the E layering. After all is said and done I worship the sun And have an aura of Mark Antony About me. Caracalla Was my dad, and my mother Is a sleep. I am an thixotrope Now but young Man I was a Minx.
American poet and translator, Stephen Rodefer was born in Bellaire, Ohio in 1940 and graduated from Amherst in 1963. He went on to do graduate work at the State University of New York at Buffalo and San Francisco State University. Rodefer is the author of numerous volumes of poetry including The Knife (1965), One or Two Love Poems from the White World (1976), The Bell Clerk’s Tears Kept Flowing (1978), Plane Debris (1981), Emergency Measures (1987), Passing Duration (1991) and Erasers (1994). His other published work includes the play Tennyson (1983), the book Four Lectures (1982) and works of translation from the French, including Orpheus (1983). Stephen Rodefer will appear at the Prague International Poetry on the 21st May, at Baráčnická Rychta Tržiště 23, Malá Strana, (www.baracnickarychta.cz) from 19.00. See poetry.zionmag.com for details.
“Dane Zajc and the Poetics of Solitude”
socialist political system.
(from page 10)
ornamentation in the new confessional-ism or the experiments of the new formalism may justifiably fail to interest him greatly. If at all. Central to his interest is the way his own dark obsessions can be expressed in a poem that is as humanly fragile as it is hauntingly lyrical. Zajc gazed into the crowd of stoned, enervated and eroticised students, mixing with the American and European poets who had come to read their work in the deep American south. There he sat: the greatest living Slovenian poet in a hospitable house in the middle of a suburban nowhere, surrounded by a throng of gifted honors students and ignorant daddy’s girls, frustrated editors of literary supplements and romantic college bards. Only the day before, all us had had listened to Zajc’s public reading with humbled respect and quiet enthusiasm. The audience was treated to a selection from a tiny limited-edition booklet of poems: Michael Biggins’s and Michael Scammell’s translation of Dane Zajc’s Ashes in the series entitled Poetry Miscellany Yugoslav Chapbooks that was published by the creative writing program at the University of Tennessee. Pleased with the compliments, Dane Zajc was not much taken with all this attention. He must have felt the same indifference in 1982 when he was a visiting Fulbright writer at Columbia University in New York and Joseph Brodsky publicly described his work as “the great poetry of a small nation”. The praise that Brodsky gave Zajc was definitely no small complement. All the same, I believe that Zajc intuitively sensed that praise, although alluring and desired, has a significance that belongs to the external order of things. Compliments, congratulations, awards and appreciative essays of course do take on a certain importance in social terms. In terms of the existential impulse of art—which can touch a wounded soul because itself emerges from a wounded soul—all of this carnival, however, is of slight relevance. At the party in that Tennessee suburb, Dane Zajc rose from his chair only once. He approached a young woman whom I, though I had attentively prowled the rooms of the house, failed to register as “special.” The hero of Slovenian letters exchanged a few words with her. Even today, I recall the metaphysical shudder that overcame me when he responded to my jovial provocation: Hey, Dane! Go for it! It’s your turn now! With this exclamation, I attempted to celebrate the welcome fact that grateful groupies do not belong only in the domain of pop stars and football players. But Zajc’s response disarmed me. With a gentle voice, he whispered: Solitude departed for an instant. Poems of Dane Zajc make solitude depart for an instant, offering a reader a glimpse into a world that is as ancient as it is modern. Poetry that springs from an understanding of solitude as the main feature of human condition, reminds us that we may transcend solitude only for a blink of an eye and that even in the climax of erotic union between the two bodies, orgasms are in fact two, not one. Poetry as a form of erotic consummation of a bond between individuals is thus wedded to an impossible pursuit of totality and perfection, oscillating between a personal solitude and collective fulfilment. In this regard, poetry of Dane Zajc calls out the deepest secret of existence that is perhaps the only thing we humans truly share.
1955—After working for two years for the national postal service, Zajc is employed as a librarian at the Pioneer Youth Library and works there until his retirement in 1989. 1958—He receives his high school degree following private studies but the pro-regime student organisation prevents him from enrolling at the university. Because of barriers posed by the cultural and political bureaucracy, Zajc self-publishes his first collection entitled Burnt Grass (Požgana trava). 1961—His second independent poetry collection, Tongue of Soil (Jezik iz zemlje), is published. 1962—Zajc’s play Children of the River (Otroka reke) is debuted by the experimental theatre Stage 57 which is associated with Review 57 (Revija 57) that Zajc co-founded. 1964—The cultural journal Perspectives (Perspektive) of which Zajc was the co-editor is banned by the government. Zajc continues to collaborate with dissident publications such as Word (Beseda) and Review 57. 1968—Publication of poetry collection Snake Killers (Ubijavci kač). 1975—Publication of poetry collection Rožengruntar. 1979—Publication of poetry collection You Saw (Si videl). 1981—Zajc receives the coveted Prešeren Award for his life-time literary achievements. 1981/82—Zajc lives and works in New York as a Fulbright visiting writer at Columbia University. 1985—Publication of poetry collection Incantations (Zarotitve). 1991/1995—President of the Slovenian Writers Association. 1993—Becomes a member of Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences 1998—Publication of poetry collection Down Down (Dol dol) for which Zajc wins the national Jenko Poetry Award. In addition to the books listed above, Dane Zajc has written many theatrical plays, children’s poetry collections and essays. His work has been published in several anthologies and has appeared in book form in translation; in Serbian, Macedonian, German, Swedish and French. Besides the above mentioned awards, Zajc has received many literary prizes in former Yugoslavia and Slovenia. Dane Zajc
Poems (translated from the Slovenian by Erica Johnson Debeljak)
Dead Things Rain laps at the stones. Water stands in the hearth. Rain wears away the oven. Sand fills the cellar.
Dane Zajc: Life and Books 1929—Zajc is born on October 26 in Zgornja Javorščica in what was then the Yugoslav Kingdom.
The vines grow wild. The well crumbles. The last wall collapses.
1941/45—Because of the destruction of the local school, Zajc does not attend school during these years. The occupying foces also burn down his home and two of his brothers die in the partisan resistence struggle.
Thistles grow in the corner, where the table once stood. Quiet evening conversation, father’s elbow on the table. Dead father.
1948/49—Zajc begins to publish his poetry in Youth Journal (Mladinska revija). These early poems would only be published in a book form in 1990, in his Collected Works in five volumes.
Your elbow has decayed. Your hand is soil.
1951—Zajc is jailed and expelled from high school. A two year service in the Yugoslav army follows and hardens his resistance against the
Who will tame the vines. Who will light the fire. Who will dig up from beneath the hearth the decaying faces of dead years.
Barren Harvest I recognise his skull, mother said, by its beautiful white teeth. Beautiful white teeth biting into the soil, beautiful brown eyes filled with soil, strong young bones that once were hands, hands that never caressed a woman, strong young bones caressing the soil. Full of brilliant young teeth sown in the earth. Each spring the earth blossoms. The cruel hard earth that swallows us in her dark jaws. The death of old men is hard. But harder still is the harvest of beautiful brown eyes eyes that have never seen a naked woman, that have never been kissed by her whispering lips: I’m yours (eyes that have seen nothing yet). Inconceivable is the harvest of beautiful brown eyes, the barren harvest of the unfeeling earth. I remember you, brother. Our mother recognised your white teeth. Your young white teeth were the earth’s barren harvest.
To be a Drop of Rain To be a drop of rain on your breasts, to be a bright clean drop of rain on your thirsty skin, to be a drop of restless rain on feverish breasts, to be a drop of rain absorbed by your body. To be the kindling in your fire, to be a flame in your fire, to be a great flame in the fire of your life, to burn, to burn, to burn out and become the ashes scattered by the breath of your passion, to feel nothing more, to want nothing more. Only in annihilation is there peace and love, only in annihilation is there endless loyalty, dead things love with the peace of eternity, oh to be a rock in the field of your love.
Bells of a New Day Wind. And rocks. And cold. Cold in the red sky. Cold in the bluish peaks. In the frozen moss. Cold in the crimson blossoms. Cold in the abyss, where the fog spins a ball of rancour, a ball of nausea, a ball of hysterical laughter. The soft bells of the herd herald the morning high on the ridge. The rocky shoulders of the mountains emerge from dark waters. Grim and immobile. The wind rips by them, an invisible sail boat. Clouds, washing their cruel greedy hands in the bloody lake of early dawn, herald the morning The sky is blanketed in a dance of bears. Blanketed in a dark menace. Cold settles on the earth.
You are alone in this world. Like a rock is alone and the wind sighs past the mountain’s craggy face. With only this to comfort them, the broken bells of the herd ring in the new day. The Captive Wolf Run, run, run. With velvet steps. With sinewy wild legs. Run quietly like a silent grey spirit, run round your cage, on the rotting leaves. Run ahead. Run back. With open muzzle. With red tongue. Run like a grey shadow, a grey silent shadow of hatred, a grey shadow of contempt in your cage. Run. Run. Run. Howl, howl wild and cruel. Where do packs of wolves run free. Where do droves of grey spirits float in the milky moonlight at the centre of an evil flock. Where are the soft throats of sheep. O gorge on the sweet blood of sheep. O howl. Howl. Why do you howl, wolf, as the earth howls when it is crushed by a mountain of rocks? Why do you howl, wolf. Why do you howl, as if you had long black thorns caught in your gullet Vipers On some abandoned shore, where the sand and the wind speak of eternity, vipers crawl beneath the rocks, cold and dreadful, they creep upon my heart. I said to the vipers, hungry for warmth: Drink my blood. Since what is blood for, What is a river of desire for, If it cannot flow, if it is choked by the dam of reason. Devour my heart. My heart is too full for me. Too full for me, when it melts into the ice, just as weeping stars melt into the river. Devour my heart. And twist yourselves into a cold coil in the cavity of my chest, so that I can no longer watch how the stars weep from darkened lakes, and how they yearn for the bright footsteps left behind in the blue velvet sky. Devour my heart and drink my hot blood, cold dreadful vipers. Everything is permitted on this desolate shore, where the sand and the wind speak of eternity, only your heart must be torn out and tossed into the vipers’ hungry jaws.
The first light lies dismembered on the rocks. Fog simmers in the cauldron of the abyss.
The Raven at the End of the World: Anselm Hollo’s Dan: gerous Language Anselm Hollo, Corvus (Saint Paul: Coffee House Press, 2002. 142pp. ISBN 1-56689-039-X. EUR10.00, USD11.95.
For over thirty years, Anselm Hollo has been brilliantly weaving together the pioneering sensibilities of a high-modernist European with a postmodern American vernacular to produce a poetry of extraordinary grace, wit, and power. In his latest work, Corvus, he surpasses himself—it’s more beautiful and assured than anything he’s yet written. These new poems ripple with an elegant clarity while offering a delightfully subversive edge. Hollo’s poetry performs the seemingly impossible, delivering the ancient satisfactions of sheer pleasure within a radical form that challenges the reader to think differently about what literature might be. A master at leaping effortlessly between the high note and the low, between sonorous, elegiac rhythms and the slyly comic mordant aside, he can swerve from these lines, in West is Left on the Map: a puff of dust where the lampshade bloomd Marlene forever young like Marx or Helen’s ankles at the gates of dusk to the deadpan observation of: many thoughts return marked insufficient postage For sheer dexterity, he has few equals. There’s a protean suppleness at work throughout this book, which by turns is bracingly sceptical, ruefully laconic, and flat out wondrously heartening. In Hollo’s poems, the sublime and ridiculous are more than just strange bedfellows, but markers for the circulating energies of an endless play of perpetually reconstituted meanings. The deeper we read Corvus the more we come to see that these polar nodes are tropes for generating a mysteriously liberating force, and that if we are quick enough to glimpse it, we might be endowed with a saving sense of beautiful absurdity. hand me my spear my little secret book desperately singing in harm’s way yes yes that does describe your arbitrary foci dream of big live teddy bear that “wants” “you”
Like another great original, the French Surrealist Robert Desnos, Hollo sees his poems forming one continuous poem. Viewed in this light, it might be tempting to cast Hollo’s corpus as an epic, say, along the lines of Pound’s Cantos or Olson’s Maximus Poems. Nothing could be more misleading. Hollo eschews the grandiose and the macroscopic in favour of the intimate and the local. For the special genius of his work is the way it articulates a kind of anti-epic, a discrete series of poems—linked by the tonal and thematic concerns of a wry, deft sensibility—that focus on the marvels and inanities of the quotidian, on friends, the literary world, the procedures of art and science (to name but a few of the amazingly diverse range of topics he addresses), and the exasperating and often hilarious ironies attendant on all of these. The possibility for epic contained in the notion of one continuous poem is realised, if one may call it that, in the puncturing of the ambitions and pretensions of the epic. Instead, we are given the most rewarding and humane alternative—a conversation. Much of the tone in Corvus is retrospective. It is a book of looking back, taking stock, summing up. In many ways, it is book of elegies, and among those recalled are the poet’s sister, Irina, whom he memorialises in the austere and haunting 1991, as well as the cosmopolitan poet Piero Heliczer, and American poets Joe Cardarelli and Ted Berrigan. The exuberant Berrigan figures prominently in Corvus. The section entitled Lines From Ted: An Ars Poetica is a transcription, Hollo writes in his fascinating Notes (an appended sub-book that is as rich in detail as the main text), of talks given by Berrigan at Naropa in 1982. The result is a
remarkable posthumous collaboration that outlines what might be called the way of the poem. You have to make your work at your own pace It is made of words One word after another Some people do it in phrases Others are beautiful writers of sentences & some are beautiful writers of one word at a time
But what I think happens when a poem works is That it rises into the air of its own powers And in doing so it has formed a circle And it becomes something like the sun or a star Or a planet Or whatever I like the idea of it being up in the air To have no idea is a good idea If it helps you to make a poem I have to go now I have to go and think about this for a thousand years
And a thousand years would only be a start. Lines From Ted magnificently performs not just what poetry can bring us—its enigmatic news from beyond, its invigorating power of play—but what poetry is. As warm and fresh as a talk with a dear, old friend, it also shrewdly meditates on the materialist character of the poem, a thing made out of that most recalcitrant and unyielding of substances, words, that nevertheless transcends its origin to achieve a wild, emotive life all its own. Hollo is undoubtedly one of our most erudite poets, but while Corvus bristles with a wealth of allusions, it never feels top-heavy, nor is the music ever impeded by the learning. Indeed, one of this poet’s greatest accomplishments is the way he weds acute intelligence to the rhythmic demands of song. His praxis is deceptively simple, as he notes in The Word Thing:
power. But the chief pleasure of Corvus is its deeply human music. From the recondite The Word Thing, to the playful farce of Why There Is A Cat Curfew In Our House, to his earthy translations from the Greek Anthology, or the intimate, lyrical benediction of And, a poem that, among others things, praises the work of his wife, the artist Jane Dalrymple-Hollo, he strikes an expansive and ennobling panoply of notes. friends die before their time & that is a matter of grief but she dreams she is swimming in her studio her paintings on its walls make his head swim into spaces as free of words as die Musik when it pulls away into angelic telepathy shuts up the ape ever scheming heavy with greed & war lights him up so light he becomes invisible to himself in a vortex of notes audible only to the soul
Whatever we ask of poetry—and what more could we ask of it?—is to be found here: that it lift us like this, requiring nothing more
method is effortless: translation of autonomous objects from adept to zygote in rhapsodic rises & falls
Particularly striking is the sonnet sequence Not a Form at All But a State of Mind (the title comes from William Carlos Williams), which offers a sharp rebuttal to criticism that experimental work can’t also be formally rigorous. Hollo’s startling verbal agility and quicksilver emotional registers transform the sonnet from a threadbare object of nostalgia and poetic propriety into a dazzling display of intellection and pathos. underground trees slow darkness and fear has lien upon the heart of me magpie steals silver spoon it is gone forever like the eyeglasses of the less fortunate in a terrifying grey light from the future the carnival continues a place where a sad horde of such as love and whom love tortures point to the moon and break it
Using an Oulipian word algorithm, Hollo repeats—or better still, replays—certain key phrases at differing junctures throughout the twelve sonnet sequence, so that the overall effect of reading them straight through is like hearing an extended sonata, with motifs like landing a B-52 in a desk drawer, or “I have woven my heart into this net of branches,” reappearing with an unexpected sharpness and
(which is everything) but that we sit still, and listen. Each poem in Corvus is never less than itself, integral and complete. There are no poses here, no sleights-of-hand, except for the verbal kind that continually surprises, or else those the poet delights in exposing with a wink, a nudge, and an exquisitely formed bon mot. Over the entire book is stamped the Chinese ideogram for sincerity, which Ezra Pound translated as the sun’s lance coming to rest on the precise spot verbally. Sinceritas, Hollo amply shows, is not a quality to be associated with some sort of simpleminded naiveté, but rather is the product of the fully engaged moral imagination of the poet as he casts an alternately ironic and tender eye on the folly and clumsiness of mortal doings. For beneath all the bright, bristling wit, the marvellous, impish wordplay, the impeccable sense of rhythm, the sharp pitch and stress of diction, another note can be sometimes heard: the sound of twilight drawing its raven wing
over the edge of the sky. think about each word and why it is where it is moon splashes borrowed light on the wall across the street of distant galaxies slowly turning their tails to point to the first letter
Which is also always the beginning again of language. The unceasing nature of poetry, as Keats notes, will continue beyond us. That seems straightforward enough. But Hollo sees the underside as well, the way in which language is twisted by the professional class of liars, the politicians and those others who use it as a tool for power over others, rather than as an instrument of liberation. Hence the sublime directness of the modest poem, Proposal, as barbed as anything in Swift or Juvenal: For war memorial to end all war memorials: plain granite slab David Jones style lettering text by Ted Berrigan: THE WAR GOES ON AND WAR IS SHIT
Hollo enjoins us to always treat language like a dangerous toy. In his poems, as perhaps nowhere else, what delights can endanger—and what endangers can delight. And beyond the much needed political critiques, beauty itself, Hollo recognises, may be the most potent form of subversion available to us, since it is generated by and occupies an interior space outside the reach of the State, the Church, and all other enslaving institutions. All of which is only to say—caution: these poems may produce thoughts not sanctioned by the Authorities! In his introductory note, Hollo tells us that corvus is Latin for raven, which is what his own surname signifies in Finnish. This is appropriate, since one of the mythic roles played by the raven was that of psychopomp, or guide of souls to the Underworld, a function which poets, as purveyors of news from afar, have been playing for the species since Orpheus made his descent to Hades. The title seems triply appropriate, then—or is that quadruply?—for the way in which Hollo pays homage to his dead, not by stiffly memorialising them, but by continuing the conversation. This bit of association also brings to mind Hollo’s own translation of the great Finnish poet Paavo Haavikko: And I asked him, The bird Who is identical with myself, I asked him for the road, and he said: It is best to leave early.
Anselm Hollo has always been leaving early, ahead of all departure, as Rilke puts it, checking out the bends in the meandering psychic road ahead of us and relaying back the information with the most enormous panache and subtle precision. In a time when so many poets tread timidly about the poem, afraid of disturbing its marmoreal slumber, or else exhaust their energies in endless debates about theory, the unflaggingly abundant inventiveness of his poetry seems all the rarer, all the greater a gift for those of us fortunate enough to be alive to read it.
Tactical Realities Konrad Becker, Tactical Reality Dictionary: Cultural Intelligence and Social Control (Vienna: edition selene, 2002; distributed by Autonomedia). 136pp. ISBN 3-85266-194-3. EUR 9.80.
Konrad Becker—a contributor to nettime since its earliest incarnations—offers this remarkable little lexicon as a field manual for constructing ‘tactical’ realities. These just might be the worm holes through which to wriggle out of the consensual hallucination of global corporate media domination, in this era when the front line has mutated “from cold war to code war.” The ontology animating the text takes as its guiding postulate that there is more to what is actual than what is real. “The human 3D world is embedded in ‘n’ dimensions, but what is out there feeding from our dimensional sub-domains?” The virtual is foreclosed, flattened out, and a thin reality is presented as if it were all there is. This reality masks the existence of “living entities living off humans, eating brain.” The surplus potential of reality is restricted in the name of reproducing a normality that serves merely corporate interest. To the extent that information society can be said to exist, it exists as quite the opposite of the enlightening, emancipatory rhetoric in which it is usually shrouded. Becker’s book is not about information as fact, information as “a myth filled with the landmarks of consensual hallucination.” Becker’s starting point is the disturbing proposition that “humans possess the capacity to relinquish their autonomy.” Corporate designs on the communication vector aims to achieve precisely this. Autonomy means access to the construction of alternate realities; enslavement here means entrapment within a reality coercively defined and policed. As Becker says: “Production of wealth in the empire of signs is the reproduction of scarcity and the cyberpoliced poverty of everything outside.” Becker’s text works by turning the language of communications research against itself. He turns up the volume of its pseudo-scientific rhetoric so can hear the static of power. Most of the entries in this dictionary are successions of statements, such as: “perception is influenced by mental scenarios that establish the symbolic order.” Or: “Enforcing homogenisation of social behaviour patterns through comprehensive automatic classification of ‘normality’ is in the interest not only of large scale psychological operations or technologies of political control but also appealing for global mass marketing of consumer products.” What is interesting about this text is that it does not pretend to “speak truth to power”. It dispenses altogether with the enlightenment ideology of debunking ideology. The struggle in Becker’s terms is rather one of who controls the mechanisms defining truth and illusion. There is a whiff of Foucault here, but Foucault only examined 19th century discourses within which truth was produced. He did not tackle the master-discourse of the 20 th century—‘communication.’ Writes Becker: “Belief and imagination construct reality, from the basic mechanisms of survival to the brain-stem controlled hit-andrun instinct and territorial behaviour to the abstract symbolism of the neural impulses coded in mental images and underlying world views.” This reads not so much like a parody of communication discourse as a deadpan plagiarism. He is not out to debunk this language, but to re-purpose its tools. “Because of limits in capacity to cope directly with the complexity of the world, the mind constructs simplified mental models of reality.” These statements read like outtakes from academic journals, military manuals or public relations pitchbooks—three genres that may effectively have merged anyway. These three genres—the academic, military and commercial aspects of communication research— come together as corporate intelligence, which is “a means of protecting corporate power against democratic forces.” Intelligence is the key word here, in all its senses. “Intelligence is the virtual substitute for violence in the Information Society.” On
the one hand, corporate intelligence; on the other, cultural intelligence. The difference between them is not in who possesses the truth, but in the techniques each deploys for the construction of realities. One is based on a hierarchy of exchange values; the other on a proliferation of use values. Becker follows closely the post-enlightenment turn in corporate intelligence, which may promote ‘democracy’ as an official ideology, but is mainly in the business of exploiting the non-rational attributes of the citizen-subject. “Individuals are subject to very consistent and predictable errors in judgment. These errors of reason are not due to a lack of expertise or intelligence but are embedded in the fundamental mechanisms by which we process information.” The struggle is over whether these apparent shortcomings in the human organism’s processing of information can be exploited to subjugate it, or could be the quirks and particularities out of which the virtuality of the world might be actualised. With corporate intelligence, “the aim is alertness reduction, programmed confusion and flattening of the mind.” In the cultural studies
tradition, much is made of the ordinary capacity to interpret dominant texts otherwise. But this does not take into account the emerging hegemony of interpretative resources. It is not a world view that dominates, but a particular machinery for making world views. Attacking a dominant worldview is not the same as dismantling its means of production. The tantalising possibility of the Tactical Reality Dictionary is that it points the way to this more pressing task. Becker speaks of dominant media processes with a vectoral language of flows: “The News are the waves and ripples generated by fundamental currents in the deep sea of unconscious agreements, reinforcing myths and conditioned reflexes.” And again: “The dramas of mythological soap operas and their strange attractors generate self-sustaining patterns.” These are the techniques for the reproduction of reality as repetition, much as Debord spoke of the spectacle as a timeless refutation of history. In a nod to the plebian nature of genuine recalcitrance, Becker notes that “if you cannot read you are less vulnerable to propaganda” and hence “intellectuals are the best targets of Perception Management.” This is of course “due to their implanted feeling of being im-
mune.” The information society works its delusions on the informed, not on the uninformed. Those I have elsewhere called the ‘infoproles’ have the good sense to ignore the shrill righteousness, emanating from elite American colleges as much as the exhortations of fundamentalist preachers. The basic principle of maintaining coercive reality is for Becker almost a physiological one: “It takes more information and data processing to recognise an unexpected phenomenon than an expected one.” Once a society has outlived the founding violence with which the vector is inserted into the body politic, it requires not much more than coercive persuasion to maintain the illusion that it was ever thus. Hence perhaps the mutual incomprehension between the overdeveloped world, where a selective reality has become normalised to the point of boredom, and the underdeveloped world, where it is still being established by force. Yet one should not underestimate the extent to which the colonization of territory has always been simultaneously a matter of seizing the means of producing its representation. As Becker muses, “with hindsight, whole empires could turn out to be products of cultural engineering.” The emergent empire of our times seems to have a particular affinity with “the synthetic representation of the world in a system of game rules” The globe is being produced by a Playstation empire which assigns relative and relational values to any and everything. This is a world in which “the dammed are the left-out, suppressed and excluded data. Their graves lie at the cross roads of Trivia.” The dif ficulty Becker’s text raises is in conceptualising the difference between what is merely a variation on the same old coercive reality and what might open a line of escape from it. He offers this deadpan sentence—straight from astroturf training manuals—as an indication of the problem: “Deactivation of a social activist group is achieved by a three step strategy of isolating the radicals, cultivating and education the idealists into realists and finally co-opting the realists.” One thinks of all the well meaning folk in NGOs one meets, and the rhetorics by which they justify their compromises.... As Becker says, “pragmatic realists and opportunists are manipulated through trade-offs and perceptions of ‘partial victories.’” The consensual hallucination of official reality even has its own zealots, who critique everyday appearances that fall short of the official social norms in its own terms, and pretend this is a species of radicalism. One can recognise these thought reformers by their procedures: “demands for confession, unconditional agreement to ideology, manipulation of language into clichés.” These are the techniques of those who want a token presence within the current consensual reality, rather than turning over the means of its making to the people it claims to represent. Rather than confronting the illusion of reality with the reality of illusion, Becker counsels a different strategy: “reality as a normative hallucination is the virtual prison system of a social organization. Individuals who flee from these representations and concepts of the world have more choices than those who cannot escape the straight-jackets of imposed reality.”
Let a thousand realities bloom. As Becker notes, “most of the early hopes of emacipatory practice in a society based on information exchange seem to have vanished.” Information is not transparent or neutral, and while we may wonder whether it actually exists, even the illusion of its existence is a powerful effect. What would it mean to dispense with the reality of information? It’s a difficult line of thought. As Becker notes, “the difficulty is not in acquiring new perceptions or new ideas, but that already established perceptions are difficult to change.” And so we are stuck with information, as it is. Perhaps we can figure out how to deploy the illusion of its existence differently. Says Becker: “Humans need to find ways to escape the vicious circle of forced work for wages and imposed leisure, to escape symbolic dominance and cultural entertainment, the ‘reality’ of everyday life and the flatlands of binary logic.” There is hope. “The movement of hedonistic escape from materialism is a global language of zero work ethics in full e-fact. Towards the united international hedonistic diversification, critical escapism will dance at the grave of ordinary pan-capitalism.” If the vector can be used to orchestrate and conduct flows, perhaps it can also be used to extend the dimensions of existence of that more autonomous, embodied movement that appears here in the figure of the dance. Like Critical Art Ensemble, Becker turns one edge of his rhetorical creation against actually existing art practice. “In a conflict of resistance to zombie culture it is understood that traditional art can no longer be justified as an activity to which one could honourably or usefully devote oneself.” He proposes an image of “the artist as a reality hacker” The artist does not construct (or even deconstruct) images of the world, but constructs worlds of images. In place of the artist, one might imagine what Becker calls cultural intelligence, which “gathers, evaluates and processes meta-information about the foundations of information based society.” Cultural intelligence might be no less committed to deception and ambiguity than corporate intelligence, but toward other ends. Evading surveillance for Becker’s reality hackers is a matter of “avoiding anything a computer would find interesting.” These “hedonistic engineers explore escape routes from an anxiously bored society knowing that speed and deception secretly free from imposed values.” The goal is the production of “autonomous neuro-stimulation zones” Becker sometimes couches statements in the political rhetoric of the times, but with a somewhat different purpose: “A key ecological issue concerns the preservation and increase of the use value for the public at large and the non-commercial properties of information as opposed to the exchange value.” Or: “Digital human rights are based on the understanding of communication as motor of civilization and a base of individuality as well as society.” Becker rethinks the ecological for a world that has passed beyond second nature to third nature, and human rights in a world which hovers on the precipice between the posthuman and the inhuman. In what may be a nod toward the kind of art-practice of groups like The Yes Men, Becker notes that: “The nets are used by cultural activists as meta-data tools according to a new artistic tradition of inspired interpretation of data within a panopticon of commodified world views.” By which we might take the Yes Men not as a critical negation of dominant ideologies, but as an instance of the autonomous production of a parallel reality—one in which Dow Chemical really does apologise for the mistakes of its subsidiaries. One might ask, in the gap between these world, which is less possible. All we know is that “What is ‘real’ is not certain, but what is certain is not ‘real.’” The most invigorating aspect of this book is not its playful paranoia about communication as a power of constraint, but its joyful insistence that there are more dimensions to this reality that the impoverished three we are told exhaust it. As Becker puts it: “Lock picking the future requites multi-dimensional maps of the world for new exits and safe havens in hyperspace.”
Donald F. Theall
Allegories of Language Louis Armand, Techne: James Joyce Hypertext & Technology (Prague: Karolinum / Charles University Press, 2003). xiii + 228 pp. 226pp. ISBN: 80246-0391-8. EUR 15.00, CZK 300.
Beginning with Jacques Derrida’s paper delivered 1982 in Dublin, the last two decades have shown a considerable awareness of the importance of technology in the art of James Joyce. Yet that awareness of the importance of the technological, the mathematical and the scientific in Joyce goes back at least to the comments of Carola Giedion-Welcker in the late 1920s in which she pointed out that Joyce wanted to “crystalise a cultural state … For god and technology had moved critically close to each other.” Joyce comically immortalised this when he declared himself to be “the greatest engineer.” In the early 1950s well before Jacques Derrida in the late 1960s, Marshall McLuhan, a dedicated reader of Sigfried Giedion (Carola’s husband), and Arnold Hauser, introduced these topics into criticism of Joyce’s later works, as Louis Armand, poet, essayist and theorist, points out early in Techne: James Joyce, Hypertext and Technology. The main purposes of Armand’s important study are primarily to “trace the historical development of communications technologies in the context of Joyce’s writing,” while secondarily examining their effects on Joyce scholarship. Although the role of technology in Joyce is more central to this study than hypertext, throughout the book he presents an important new understanding of the relationship of Joyce’s work to the evolution of hypertext from mechanisation and the new electric media. As the title suggests, the relation of the Greek word for art (techne) is examined, revising the Heideggerian position that “techne belongs to poiesis” into Joyce’s position and practice in which “techne is a question of process or poiesis linked to physis.” This stresses the material and signifying processes in which the particular nature of the Joycean text is grounded. Since the march toward hypertext and its relation to virtuality and digitalisation begins with the Enlightenment, Techne identifies William Blake as an early, pre-avant-garde poet impacted by mechanisation. Armand’s main discussion quickly moves to the rise of the avant-garde under the impact of the new technologies and the role of the mathematical and scientific on the poetic activity of the arts in the post-Enlightenment. Examining or noting the contributions of Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Valéry, Duchamp, Marinetti, Léger, MoholyNagy, Cubists, Constructivists and others, he briefly outlines the significance of the avantgarde to Joyce’s project and to understanding the interplay of technology and the arts up until the end of the 1960s. The synthesising of the oppositional tendencies between these figures and movements in Joyce’s work is most extensively realised in the Bauhaus launched by Walter Gropius. Joyce’s use of the term techne designates a machinic process inherent in nature. With this background Armand opens his discussion with the transformation of the book in which he directly queries current theorists of hypertext, such as Jay Bolter and George Landow, who emphasise an empirical approach to electronic writing. In the process Techne explains that Finnegans Wake demonstrates that the text cannot be fixed forever or at all. Later material accretions such as various genetic projects which involve the manuscripts and the notebooks or letters and biographical material further complicate its genuine hypertextuality, for they become part of the ever-varying work. By the closing sections Armand describes the Wake as being composed of: language fragments, paranomasia, portmanteaux, resemblances towards belonging to one language or another; the general typography of the text (marginalia, footnotes, hand drawings, geometrical diagrams, the distribution of paperspace, individual graphemes and phonemes); and syntax, grammar and other forms of articulation. “From this perspective [he observes] each fragment . . . seems to preserve a genetic blueprint of the whole, which it not merely allegorises, but inscribes.” Since in the world of electronic technology
the medium itself is recognised as a kind of mechanical-textual apparatus, the text is just such a fragmented entity of genetic blueprints. Consequently Derrida’s assertion that the cybernetic programme describes a field of writing is one of the “most succinct” statements concerning hypertext. Joycean equivocity, based as it is on a type of theoretic univocity works well prefiguring hypertextuality and by so doing strongly deconstructs the relation between text and hypertext. Joyce’s deconstruction of the historical organisation of the book’s typographical codes (e.g. the marginalia in Book II.ii) “draws attention to material aspects of textuality and the signifying relations inaugurated by them.” This provides what he suggest we might call “a techne of inscription” that arises from the “network of possible “signifying ‘states.’” Since this can be associated with Joyce’s hieroglyphs of “engined egypsians,” there is a detailed discussion of textual engineering, of what Derrida called “Joyceware.” Joyce’s work embraced a practical knowledge of what Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari denominated “transversality”—the foundation
of what Derrida called “Joyceware,” whose own work Geoffrey Bennington called “Derridabase, Derridaware.” For Armand, Derrida’s writing is the closest to Joyce to be found; but he also recognises that Joyce has not only the priority of coming before, but of poetically seeing more deeply and intensely. Commenting on how the eidos works hypermnemically in these works, Armand can relate such textual engineering to Poincaré’s “vicious circle principles” as well as equivalents in Turing, Cantor, Russell and others. He also can relate it to Joyce scholars who discuss his work as “ex machina” such as Rabate’s lapsus ex machina or Theall’s discussion of “poetic engineering and the accompanying use of mathematics.” This thread culminates in Joyce’s “vicociclometer” (FW 614.27) which is a manifestation of the zeropoint as well as a union of circular, spiral and grid like aspects. Next, tracing “articulations,” the structural joints of the work, Techne thoroughly discusses the anamorphic, transverse, anagrammatic and acrostic character of Joyce’s labyrinthine text, ultimately linking the anagrammatical and acrostic articulation to the Viconian notion of ricorsi storici. This further indicates that Joyce, substantially prior to Derrida, located signifying materiality within the materilaity of language itself. Techne also links this to Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, for it is noted that the juncture of circle, spiral and grid describes a verbi-visual architecture of the vortex—“hypertextual vortext” in which the acrostics and portmanteaus affect a simulation of a genetic
code or “memory.” So the Wake becomes technogenetic poetry in which role it machinates reading in the form of a textual apparatus—a cybernetic or hypertextual machine: “But by writing thithaways end to end and turning, turning and end to end hithaways writing and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slettering down, the old semetomyplace” (FW 114.16-20). The penultimate chapter examines the role of “lapsus” in Joyce. Since lapsus can indicate a falling, slipping, gliding, flowing or other related concepts, it brings together many of the aspects of the Wake’s articulation, including the flow and the lack of fixity in the text itself—clearly indicated in the one use of lapsus in the Wake, “you have remembered my lapsus langways” (FW 484.25) Since the entire text is a complex assemblage of slippings, glidings and flowings of language, lapsus consequently is related to many motifs in the Wake—the Fall, the Tower of Babel, the Phoenix, “hearasay in paradox lust”(FW 264.L67), Vicocyclometry and the ever-moving and ever-vacillating nature of the text itself. To further tie the argument about fluidity and openness to the movement of the Wake, the closing chapters of Techne are marked by numerous textual citations and their interpretations—interpretations which of themselves cannot ultimately be closed or totalised. These interpretations flow into one another as indicated in examples such as one in which it is noted that the trajectory of a resurrected-fall in a “paradox lust” would also describe “a Phoenix-like ‘proteiform graph’ as the transverse ‘polyhedron of all scripture’” (FW 107.08). The Joycean technique works, since “the more signification of identity breaks down, the better it works.” This inflationary movement derives from a “paradoxical will to derivation and truth, expanding and spreading out like an algebraic equation in which every term is a possible variable without ever offering up a solution that is not plugged back into the same or another equation.” Throughout the closing chapter, “Disclosures” and the conclusion, “Destinations,” the paradoxical, algebraic, cyclical, unresolved nature of the Wake as text is made more and more apparent In the process, McLuhan again takes a more predominant role in the discussion. Joyce’s marginalia “INCIPIT INTERMISSIO” (FW 278.R1) as a renewed beginning is identified as the mechanism which led McLuhan to read the Wake’s ten thunders as a history of technology—the thunder marking a transition and a new beginning associated again with Vico’s cycles. As Techne reaches its “Destination” McLuhan assumes a more prominent place. The Gutenberg Galaxy transformed the way scholars, writers and many others thought about the mediating role of technology in communication processes. Simultaneously this work, whose working title for McLuhan had been The Road to Finnegans Wake, probed a phenomenon similar to what Derrida discusses as writing, What McLuhan identifies as a “hieroglyphic function”—an allegory of languages described by a certain “ideographic summation,” Derrida sees this as a type of “graphology,” which he calls grammatology. Joyce in the Wake describes this ideographic, allegorical, hieroglyphic phenomenon as “juxtaposed jottings linked by spurts of speed” (FW 118.11-30)—the basis of his generative polysemy retaining a sense of irreducibility and implying a certain architectonics from which like the Phoenix arises the techno-poetics of Finnegans Wake. I strongly recommend this book for its rig-
orous and illuminating understanding of the importance of technology for Joyce and for the understanding of Joyce’s affinities with major movements of the first half of the twentieth century.
Shifting Sensibilities: from In:Yer:Face to Temptation briefly… In a recent lecture in Prague Aleks Sierz, London theatre critic and author of In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (2001), described the wave of innovative new writing for theatre that broke in mid-nineties London theatres as, first and foremost, a sensibility, rather than just a cluster of shared themes or techniques. The group of writers Sierz discusses in the book—Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Anthony Neilson, Martin McDonagh, Patrick Marber, among others—are well known in translation on stages throughout Europe and the Czech Republic is no exception. Sierz argues that what these writers did was to “transform the language of theatre, making it more direct, raw and explicit” and forcing audiences to respond to the provocation of the work. Sierz concluded his talk with a recognition that much of this energy has now dissipated and how a group of young writers calling themselves The Monsterists are exploring the possibilities of large scale, yet contemporary, drama. Ironically enough the Czechs have perhaps pipped The Monsterists at the post…. The role of Puck may never be quite the same again, in Prague at least, following the opening of the icebreaking hockey opera Nagano in the National Theatre on the 4th of April. There is no gainsaying the theatre’s attempt to engage on a monumental scale with contemporary Czech identity. The epic status of the Czech Olympic triumph means hockey has invaded the opera (is nowhere safe?) for better, worse, or as long as the singers’ voices last. More subtle pleasures for the sacrilegiously non-sporting are to be found in relative abundance elsewhere. Joe Penhall’s Some Voices / Slyšet hlasy directed by Englishman David Farr continues at Divadlo Kolwrat. The performance reverberates with an intensity rarely achieved by adaptations of contemporary UK theatre and concludes on a powerfully ambivalent note. Penhall’s work (included by Sierz among the In-Yer-Face grouping) travels with ease into a Czech context. In contrast, the first Czech production Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls / Prvotřídní ženy premiered in February in Stavovské divadlo, raising questions of the translatability of the issues the play presents to 2004 and to the local social context. Churchill’s play, all too often reduced by ‘we’ll fight them on the breeches’ style feminist readings, is provocatively complex in its staging of the problematic relations between gender and power, coupled with the clash of values in early 1980s Britain between Thatcherism and Socialism. Despite a strong cast of actors (Petra Špalková, Věra Galatíková, Tatjana Medvecká, Miluse Šplechtová ….), nevertheless, the production certainly faces difficulty in finding a sympathetic audience, given the radically different connotations of all these isms here and in 2004. It is somewhat unfortunate then that the Divadlo na Vinohradech chose to stage A Number / řada, a much more recent work by Churchill at the same time. A Number gently probes the question of cloning and subjectivity, a matter of arguably far more immediacy than the twenty-two year old debates of Top Girls. However, with a two man cast it unfolds in an understated manner, which is likely to be overshadowed by the earlier play. In May, a revision of Václav Havel’s Pokoušení / Temptation should be pencilled-in in all diaries. The production, directed by the legendary Charles Marowitz, opens on the 13th and 14 th. Finally, the Prague Fringe Festival is on course for early June. More information will soon be available on www.praguefringe.com.
Letter leaving Devon Adrian Hornsby
Have you ever felt so remote from someone that you see in an instant them in the bed and you sitting over in the old armchair, your arms drowned in their blood and moonlight? Have you well have you now? Lean on over with the big eye. Dominoes keep falling and you’re out the door. Look at that face, moving its features. We woke late that evening it was all misty, drifting like tissue beneath the streetlamps. Little shreds and thick flossed whorls. I started the car and the outside kept scrolling by. She was casting futures in the mist, and wondering if anything wasn’t an application of techniques. Thursday we went to the cinema. On Monday we went to the cinema to see two films of the Mayer-Murnau partnership of the 1920s. Sunrise takes place between the wood and the sea; a charming passage of land - a harbour, a village, rambling farms to the steep of the hills. The woman from the city has been here three weeks and more. Why does she stay? Why does she linger like the smoke from her black French tobacco among our rooms and landings? Euclidian sails pass across brilliant screens of water. She whistles at her lover’s window in the dark and he goes to her. His wife cries into her soup. As you see images they print to the back of your mind and fade, as though dropping into viscous liquid or a chemical bath. There is a flash and a fallaway, an afterimage. If you pile a new image on quickly your mind will edit them together - the afterimage will be sustained over anything that happens inbetween. Nobody realised this until the 1820s. In 1834 William Horner built a zoetrope - a drum with slits cut into the metal and a cartoon strip pasted to the inside. You spin the drum and see the figure in the cartoon dance on his spot, even though it is in continuous motion and what passes before your eye is as much frame as slit. Your mind is editing together the afterimages, and discarding anything witnessed inbetween. It just whizzes by without attaining an existence. So the adulterous farmer and the woman from the city meet among bulrushes with the moon behind them. Sell your farm come with me to
the city. Wicked dazzles of light, furious legs, red tongues of carpet unroll away down palatial distances tell me you’re mine while counterrotating wheels rush towards us. Strange attractors, spinning jennies, drown your wife peels of mouths laugh over writhing neons. A reflected face warps nastily into the hole of a horn. Octopied limbs, smears, rain, fruit. Sell your farm drown your wife come to the city. Come with me to the city. She wiggles ecstactically before the dream diorama, churning mud and bulrushes beneath her feet. She is wild in vision. He looks up at her, nervous as Orpheus, and wonders if he knows what he is committing. She is so foreign, so physically close ... We were in Moretonhampstead when I saw myself sitting in the old armchair. We were in a cottage we’d rented with a old wood stove on which I’d burnt all five fingers of my right hand by using them to test how hot it was. The local publican believed we were guidebook spies because she had been writing in her notebook over a game of darts. She limped on account of an injured ankle. I batted about because of my hand. Quite the travelling carnival. Pigs it turns out wear rings through their noses to keep them from rutting in places they shouldn’t. But Dartmoor is a killer I went often in childhood and it scorched my heart even then. The heights are so rock barren. They couldn’t care less. We do this also with our memories. While we sleep some industrious spider absails about our mind, selecting, intersticing, weaving together those afterimages it choses to retain, comprehending our reality. Seamless reels of righteousness or guilt according to the caprice of their spinners. Occasionally people go through the stuff left on the floor to make something usually either poetic or cruel. It acts as a repository, chiefly for particulars and atrocities. Der Letzte Mann is about a hotel porter played by Emil Jannings who really acts his heart out. Some actors get away with just acting as anybody would in those circumstances but Jannings was really doing something else. You could see he was acting. At times he looked so huge and puffed and weak I’dve bet he’d act himself right into a heart attack. He was like a merringue in an overcoat. It was wonderful. The story is he is demoted from porterdom on account of his great age. We have seen him
struggle a little with the larger cases and waddle somewhat in the rain. Stripped of the proud tunic of his former post he is relegated to lavatory attendant (the previous and even more ancient employee is removed to a crumblies home), wearing only a linen jacket and the gloom of his lot. The elaborate majesty with which he once greeted guests is gone. He becomes embroiled in feeble enterprises to deceive his neighbours while they pass rumours mouthtoear about the courtyard of his lodgings. He has at one point an intoxicated hallucination of himself standing before revolving doors sixty feet in height. Within the lobby is absolute white. Using only one hand he hoists aloft a gargantuan trunk and the crowds cheer and coo. We are driving in the car again through the mist in the night of Shepton Mallet. Everything holds very still. There is a strong sensation of being watched. The postbox and upstands of iron gutters sweat Hannah is knitting we find the road again and the town sinks away behind us, as though into a viscous liquid. Hedges and a disconsolate minimum. Four miles on and all alone is a bus stop, complete with seats, shelter and to-the-moment information skimming across a board of little red lights. There is nothing else in all directions. This is a P70 stop *** Please do not litter the surrounding area *** Rabble Rousers will be prosecuted *** Come with me to the city ... The farmer elects to drown his wife. He will take her out and capsize the boat, saving himself with a float of cinched rushes. A ghost of the wicked woman enwreaths him but when the moment comes she looks at him so pathetically ... he flings himself back at the oars and rows to the nearest peninsula she leaps from the stern and runs he chases after and they come to an inexplicable train stop in the middle of a wood just as the final carriage is pulling away. They mount one after the other and the would be victim and murderer stand beside each other holding the rail. Clickety clack. The moor I learn to my amazement is maintained by a process known as swaling. I had always believed it was too windburnt for anything to grow but it is in fact the National Trust who lay periodic fires to keep everything so ravaged and wild-looking. They’re a very cheeky lot. Scatter the odd bone. Beat the heather into eldritch ransacked shapes. Sell
pamphlets and bottles of elderflower wine. Build ecohuts. In five years time it’s all too late there’s nothing left to desecrate it’s rice and tax and road and brine and water. Look at those rainyday eyes. The porter has a triumphant end. He is set to be left degenerating against the tiled walls of his toilet when the first screen title of the film appears: WHILE THE AUTHOR MAINTAINS THAT MOST REALISTICALLY THIS SAD MAN WOULD CLOSE HIS SORRY DAYS IN A STATE OF SUCH IGNOMINY HERE PRESENTED, FOR THE GENERAL VIEWER’S ENJOYMENT HE HAS ADDED THIS FINAL CHAPTER. We then see a newspaper article explaining how the eccentric Mexican millionaire Mn. E. Looney has in the final tergiversations of his death bequeathed his entire fortune to the lavatory attendant in whose arms he expired. The newspaper is being read in the hotel dining room, into which our hero now enters in fine coat and excellent fettle, and embarks upon an manificent session of eating. All seven of blue Shiva’s arms could not have held the requisite number of spoons. Not so our noble swains. The train carries them into the city where by stages they refind their former love - they happen upon the church where they were married, a fair, a dance, a bottle of white wine ... it all loops back to where they were before and the last few weeks and hours’ torment are neatly excised. The sail back to their farm will be a second honeymoon cruise. Only a storm overtakes their little boat and what the farmer had once thought to do himself the sea now does for him. He struggles back to a rock; she drifts out into the arms of the moon. So we drive back to London, each of us having spent a little time sitting in the old armchair. All the way each of us is spinning. I like long drives less and less I’m finding, but motorway food better and better. It’s like with music you do the trucky bits to get to the rests.
London 29 April 2004
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Published on Dec 25, 2009
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