Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ciarán Carson Monday April 8th at 6 p.m., BU Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St., 9th floor

Ciarán Carson was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1948, into an Irish-speaking family. He is the author of a number of collections of poetry, including The Irish for No (1987), winner of the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award; Belfast Confetti (1989); First Language: Poems (1994), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize; Breaking News (2003), winner of the Forward Poetry Prize; For All We Know (2008); On the Night Watch (2010); Until Before After (2010) and In the Light Of (2012).

The event will be moderated by Meg Tyler, Associate Professor of Humanities at Boston University. Following the reading, Ciarán, who plays flute and whistle, and his wife Deirdre, an accomplished fiddler, will perform a selection of traditional Irish music.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Europe and the Institute for the Study of Irish Culture.

Ciaran Carson's "In the Light Of"

Ciaran Carson works from Louise Varese’s 1957 translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations.
You can follow this link to listen to Carson read, "Fee," "Fleurs," and "Aube."
As I Roved Out (Aube)

I embraced the summer dawn. All was still before
the palaces, their waters dead forevermore.

Shade after shadow lingered on the woodland road.
I woke quick, live, warm clouds of breath as on I strode.

Gemstones eyed my passing. Wings arose without sound.
My first adventure happened on a path I found

already littered with pale glints, wherein a flower
spoke her name to me. I blinked. It was no known hour.

I laughed to see the Wasserfall disheveling itself
in shocks among the pines; climbing shelf by rocky shelf,

I recognized the goddess at the silvered peak.
Voila! Veil after veil I lifted from her, not to speak

of how my arms were fluttering as I did so.
I did it in the lane. And boldly did I go

across the plain where I betrayed her to the cock.
She fled to the city under the steeple clock,

and beggar-like I tailed her on the marble quays.
Far up the road, beneath a grove of laurel trees,

I wound her in those recollected veils, and realized,
just a little, something of her massive shape and size.

Then dawn and child, finding themselves in the wood,
sank deep down into it. On waking it was noon.

Carson puts this poem into verse, as he does with almost all the other poems. I think one will get the sense reading Varese’s translation of Rimbaud, that embedded within Rimbaud’s work is the potential for breathtaking verse poetry. For example, a line from Varese’s direct translation of the above poem reads, “The first venture was, in a path already filled with fresh, pale gleams, a flower who told me her name.” The personification in Varese’s translation is less direct. The flower speaking a name could be metaphoric. Carson’s version is as follows: “My first adventure happened on a path I found / already littered with pale glints, wherein a flower / spoke her name to me.” This reminds me a bit of Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” or some of the other Romantic poet’s in its direct personification of nature. Perhaps Carson will also be trying to connect his work with a larger tradition?

There is also immediacy in Carson’s work, begging to be grasped, unlike Varese’s. Carson provides for the reader renewed ownership and confidence over Rimbaud's work, which can be challenging. Carson's work also presents a rather interesting study in the difference between prosaic and poetic language. For instance, Varese writes “Nothing yet stirred on the face of the palaces. The water was dead.” This is possibly a closer translation to what Rimbaud was actually writing (too bad I don’t know French). Carson on the other hand writes “All was still before the palaces, their waters dead forevermore.” He’s stretching out the language, taking the words into his hands and molding them like clay, shape-shifting. It becomes apparent he’s working with a translation, doing a translation of a translation. His usage of “I” is also impossible to miss in this poem, more frequent than in Varese’s. Once again the “I” personalizes the meaning. It reads as a beautiful verse poem, and even calls to mind Yeats’ “Song of the Wandering Aengus.”

Each individual couplet is almost in perfect rhyme with a few exceptions. The use of rhyme here is quite purposeful, as it enables new discoveries to be made about the meanings of the poems. For instance, the last two lines of Carson’s translation contain imperfect rhyme (or don’t rhyme at all) “Then dawn and child, finding themselves in the wood, / sank deep down into it. On waking it was noon.” This brings the reader out of the dreamlike wandering state of the speaker, as if suddenly jarred awake by the abandonment of the smooth, flowing rhyme scheme prior. 

Fittingly Carson begins his 1st Act (his work is divided into two acts unlike Varese’s) with this poem of awakening. Illuminations were not arranged into any sensible order by Rimbaud, and here is Carson, once again making some sense of things. 

Snow (Fleurs)

From a golden staircase – among the silken cords
on gauze of grey, plush velvets lush as greensward,

discs of crystal blackening like bronze when struck
by noon – I see the foxglove open on a ruck

of carpet wrought with silver filigree of eyes
and tresses. Pieces of yellow gold strewn slantwise

over agate, tall piers of pernambuco wood
supporting domes of emerald in the interlude

of bouquets of white satin sporting on ruby sprays,
surround the water-rose’s delicate display.

And like a god with huge blue eyes and arms of snow
the sea and sky pull towards the marble terraces

great crowds of white roses rising in crescendo
as forever young forever strong they grow and grow.

This is immediately interesting before reading because Carson chooses to translate “Fleurs” as “Snow,” while the literal translation is flowers. What will he be doing with this poem? It seems Carson was inspired to entitle this poem snow from the lines (from Varese’s translation) “Like a god with huge blue eyes and limbs of snow, the sea and sky lure to the marble terraces the throng of roses, young and strong.” A god with limbs of snow is quite shocking and beautiful an image—anything with limbs of snow for that matter. It probably struck Carson. The poem also mentions “crystal discs” in the first paragraph, along with “carpet of silver” and “white satin” all ways to describe snow. This must have stood out for Carson, and he’s also telling us that he’s willing to make some stretches in his interpretation. 

I think it’s rather beautiful. Carson’s verse in his translation seems to pile on and fall slowly out of the mouth as snow would. As I read I imagined snow falling (maybe because the poem is called “snow” but I’ll stick (no pun intended) with that. So snow was the image Carson got from this. The same way an actor might read for a character and images will start flying into mind. Johnny Depp said that while reading for Edward Scissorhands the image of the obedience and unconditional love of dogs came to him, and he imagined he was a dog while playing Edward. 

Carson literally changes the meaning of the end of the poem (the strongest departure from text thus far) and ends the poem with “great crowds of white roses rising in crescendo / as forever young forever strong they grow and grow.” Varese ends with “the sea and sky lure to the marble terraces the throng of roses, young and strong.” Snow was the image for Carson and he fit it in, quite beautifully. WHITE ROSES RISING IN CRESCENDO (I feel like reading all this nature poetry is giving me such a renewed appreciation for what is around me. We should always be personifying what’s around, like Wordsworth’s daffodils, then loneliness will be but a distant cry, which our friend the wind will blow away) 

Fee (Fairy)

All for Helen, ornamental oozing saps collogued
in virgin shadows: silent, unmoved, glittering the astral road.

Summer’s torrid heat was given over to the mute birds,
inevitable languor to an expensive funeral barge

through winding estuaries of loves long dead;
and perfumes like an evanescent freshet overlaid

the chorus of the Timberwomen to the rumble
of the torrent through the ruined wood, from the cowbells

in the valleys echoing the long cries of the steppes;
all for Helen, bushy furs and shadows quivered, bee-skeps

oozed, the poor shivered, shimmering the celestial legends.
And her eyes, her dancing far superior to a thousand

precious dazzles coldly flowing in, or to the pleasure
of that unique décor, that one and only hour.

I just love his Irish voice. The way he writes this poem is perfect for an Irish accented reading. It maid me think of Shelly’s “To a skylark:” with its “spirit,” “wert,” “near it,” “heart,” “art” all in the first stanza. It just needs an Irishman (or woman) to infuse it with a new life, and that is just the first stanza. 

I like the way Carson adds “All for Helen” as opposed to Varese’s “For Helen.” The “all” makes the statement into a long, hot breath, and hints towards an almost breathlessness. “All for Helen” might be said in one breath, and then the speaker would have to pause to catch his breath. “For Helen” seems faster and more direct, businesslike—less poetic perhaps. Carson switches around the organization of the first line of Varese’s translation; to make it fit his verse structure. Ending the second line with “glittering the astral road” is quite beautiful. 

Listening to Carson read really clues me in to what he is trying to emphasize. Reading the poem a few times on my own I felt a bit lost as to what the exact meaning was. After listening though, it becomes clearer. It brings me into the mind of the poet. I begin to see the poem more as a work of artistic performance. The poem is trying to describe the beauty of Helen through language, trying to put into words what the eye wants to feast on. I think this is why Carson lingers on “inevitable languor”—the inevitable languor caused by looking at something beautiful. 

Carson writes, “glittering the astral road.” It’s almost a beauty that isn’t describable, or even through repetitious phrase, can’t quite be captured right by words. Or rather, an astral road is already glittering, and her beauty still is able to glitter on a road that is glittering. This relates to “her dancing far superior to a thousand”—Helen stands out above all. Perhaps Carson also sounds tired, almost exhausted, breathless, when he reads because the task of capturing Helen’s beauty through language is impossible. 

I love the placement of “winding” in the third stanza. The poem itself sort of winds. A “valley” enables a long distant cry, a longing search, as Helen’s beauty alludes all through the valleys. Then another “All for Helen.” “And her eyes, her dancing far superior to a thousand / precious dazzles coldly flowing in, or to the pleasure / of that unique décor, that one and only hour.” “And her eyes” is followed by a comma, and a pause in Carson’s reading, as if to say so much has already been written on Helen’s beauty and the poet hasn’t yet even spoken about her eyes, which must be too beautiful to even attempt to describe in words. 

Invisible Cities (Les Ponts)

I think it worthwhile to do a word for word comparison of Carson and Varese’s translations to try to grasp the peculiarities of Carson’s style. In some poems he adds completely new meaning, while in others he sticks more obediantly to Varese's original translation. 

Varese                                                                                    Carson
Skies the gray of crystal.
Skies a crystal grey.
A strange design of bridges, some straight, some arched, others descending at oblique angles to the first;
Bizarre design of bridges, some straight, some humpbacked, others looping down oblique and angulate,
It seems that again Carson is focused on making the language less prosaic. He removes the article. “Humpbacked” over “arched” is a nice transition, seems to lean again towards the frequent use of personification. Carson remains concerned about making the poems more relatable and familiar to the reader.
And these figures recurring in other lighted circuits of the canal,
a design repeated in other, lighted circuits of the grand canal,
But all so long and light that the banks, laden with domes, sink and shrink.
but all so long and delicate that the docks, overloaded with domes, are lowered and diminished.
A few of these bridges are still covered with hovels,
A few of the said bridges are still covered with hovels.
Others support poles, signals, frail parapets.
Others support poles, frail parapets and tropes.
Minor chords cross each other and disappear; ropes rise from the shore.
Minor chords cross each other and fade away; ropes ascend from the embankments.
“Ropes ascend from the embankments” certainly has more of a ring to it then “ropes rise from the shore”
One can make out a red coat, possibly other costumes and musical instruments.
You can make out a red coat, perhaps other costumes; musical instruments you may note.
This is clearly intended to have a rhyme and playful rhythm. More captivating for the reader
Are these popular tunes, snatches of seigniorial concerts, remnants of public hymns?
Are these popular tunes, snatches of seigniorial spree, fragments of public anthems?
The water is gray and blue, wide as an arm in the sea.
Wide as an arm of the sea, the water is grey and blue.
A white ray falling from high in the sky destroys this comedy.
A white ray falling from the outer sky annihilates this comedy.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Third Event: The Poetry of Engagement, Wednesday March 6, 7p.m. at The Castle, 225 Bay State Road

Featured poets – Sharon Olds, Rae Armantrout and Frank Bidart – will be reading their poems from the recently published anthology, The New American Poetry of Engagement: A 21st Century Anthology, edited by Ann Keniston and Jeffrey Gray.
A reception will follow.

Steven Cramer Reading from Clangings at BU

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Second Event: Thursday February 28th, 6-7:30PM, Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary's St., Rm. 206

This is the first event in the Irish Voices series--which will include two more readings--supported by the Institute for the Study of Irish Culture, the Center for the Study of Europe, the BU Center for the Humanities, CGS and AGNI. The events are all free and open to the public.

This Thursday, Colm Toibin, celebrated Irish novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and most recently, poet, was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. His published works include The Testament of Mary and The Master. The conversation will be moderated by Christopher Ricks.

First Event Recap

So the first event was a great success! A mostly undergraduate crowd watched and listened to both poets read for around twenty minutes each. I am very grateful to Professor Meg Tyler, the host and chief planner behind all these events for giving me the opportunity to introduce the poets. I was quite anxious, and hardly looked up from my paper as I read, but it was certainly a memorable experience. A video recording of the event should be on its way soon. Here is the first introduction I read, for Catherine Barnett, focused on her poem "Night Hour," transcribed below:

All night the unlocked door
Remains unlocked, all night it rocks in its frame
and speaks to child who waits
in his bed with only a pillow
and a phone under it--

and no light in the house
no other sound in a house
left open to mothers, thieves, wind--

"Night hour" is the 8th poem in Catherine Barnett's second book, The Game of Boxes. It is composed of clauses piled one on top of the other, and it offers no full-stop, but stays open, just like the "unlocked door" the speaker describes. The poem opens, "All night the unlocked door / remains unlocked, all night it rocks in its frame / and speaks to the child who waits / in his bed with only a pillow / and a phone under it"

One gets the sense reading the poem that there is a story not being told. Why is the door unlocked and why is the phone under the child's pillow? The repetition is reminiscent of what you find in children's (bedtime) stories. The child seems to be alone, except for the only sound in the house--the unlocked door rocking in its frame. The door, as "all night it rocks in its frame" seems to share in the child's vulnerability, bringing to mind the first lines of Speak Memory, "the cradle rocks above an abyss."

The door is "left open to mothers, thieves, wind." To the mother, whose return we assume is longed for; to the thieves who capture the child's fear and dread of what might enter the house. To the wind which can blow open a door, like the many doors these poems open.

For Steven Cramer, I focused my introduction around the first poem in his most recently published book Clangings. Here is a link to Cramer reading the poem:

Steven Cramer Reading from Clangings

In Steven Cramer's Clangings, different kinds of sound play enliven each line. In the openings poem's homonyms and chiasmi (such as: My friends say get on board, but I'm not bored" or "That's why when radios broadcast news, news broadcast from radios") the speaker suggests the links between connected and disparate things, reflecting the ties that bind different aspects of his personality. "My friends say get on board" implies that perhaps friends are urging the speaker to "get with it," as if that were an easy task. But the speaker insists on hearing something about bore-dom instead, which he insists he isn't, attuned to the sounds of objects around him, especially companionable sounds--dinner plates, broadcast radio--ironic because he has no such companion outside himself, only the voices within.

In Clangings, the world of the speaker seems hyper-animated. In his charged and enchanted state, he sees connections we may not -- between vivid objects and strings of words. Amid this jumble, it might come as a surprise to find that each individual poem in the collection is composed of five quatrains. These quatrains feel open, perhaps expressing a desire for fluid thought, which is never quite achieved; like his chiasmi, his phrases come back at him, not having found a receptacle/target. The poems are written in tetrameter, yet they work against the so-called meter of enchantment. Amidst all the beautifully communicated chaos, there is some search for meaning, some natural yearning for a magical ability to transcend this state of being. The first poem concludes with the lines, "What, you wonder, do I mean? / Except for slinging my songs / wayward home, how do things / in people go? is what I mean." Beyond just the speaker, there is a larger quest in this work; to learn about how we all think, aspiring to some greater clarity.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The First Reading! (February 25th, 6 p.m., Katezenberg Center)

The first reading will take place on Monday, February 25th at 6 p.m. at the Katzenberg Center on the 3rd Floor of 871 Commonwealth Avenue, featuring Catherine Barnett and Steven Cramer. Barnett will be reading from her recently published book of poems entitled Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012). Barnett has received the 2012 James Luaghlin Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers' Award, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and a Pushcart. Steven Cramer will also be reading from his recently published book of poems entitled Clangings (Sarabande Books, 2012). Cramer is the author of five poetry collections, and directs the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge.

Below are two of my favorite poems from Game of Boxes by Catherine Barnett:


Every night cars drive by with windows,
buses filled with windows fly right by,
windows filled with windows head home and away from home,
windows opening,
windows closing,
windows in suits and ties
wearing the eyes of strangers or stars.

This poem really reminded me of biking or walking home from campus after class, and the feeling I get seeing the T and buses go by. 


Finally there's someone I might
and have and could one day
want again, or tarry--

I could tarry a man like him,
at the supermarket, at the corner store,

where the perishables, waiting to be touched
and taken home, keep

I really love the word tarry. It seems to embody the sense you get when someone likes you, they want to tarry, and you can tell they are lingering around. If the person doesn't tarry, it could mean disinterest and dislike. The line "I could tarry a man like him," not quite marry but something close, perhaps tarry the idea of getting married? I also think the speaker identifies with the perishable items in the supermarket. If she, like the items, isn't touched and connected with, she will expire. She is trembling with anxiety that her lover/friend will not tarry away with her, and she will go home alone into a dark void.

Below is the first poem from Clangings by Steven Cramer:

I hear the dinner plates gossip
Mom collected to a hundred.
My friends say get on board,
but I'm not bored. Dad's a nap

lying by the fire. That's why
when radios broadcast news,
news broadcast from radios
gives air to my kinship, Dickey,

who says he'd go dead if ever
I discovered him to them.
I took care, then, the last time
bedrooms banged, to tape over

the outlets, swipe the prints
off DVDs, weep up the tea
stains where once was coffee.
Not one seep from him since.