Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Just a quick post about what's among the pile of books on my night table that I'm reading and digging (or have finished reading recently).
John Godfrey is "a poet's poet" which only means he's one of the greatest poets of my generation but hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves. His book DABBLE is high on my alltime favorite books of poetry list. SINGLES AND FIVES, his latest, is a slimmer volume (what they call "a chapbook" meaning, in this case, it was made by just folding the pages and creating a binding with knotted thread) but displays his unique use of language. Here's a sample:


Hang to the thing
that hangs off
the thing called love
All that breathe
are not progeny
They have their bucket
to keep storefront
padlocks in and
one young belle with
premature crease of throat
Takes a timeout to feel
as fine as she looks
She wants to see what
the cameraman sees
She prefers it's a man
with a plaything
called self
and the scratched
surface is
her real one"

Elinor Nauen also wrote one of my alltime favorite poetry books: SO LATE INTO THE NIGHT, a book length autobiographical poem in ottava rima (!). It just came out last year and now is followed by MY MARRIAGE A TO Z, a kind of coda, poetic but written as prose, it contains little vignettes and observations about her marriage to the writer and pioneer performance artist Johnny Stanton, and is so delightfully satisfying I read it in one sitting on my way back from Manhattan on the train a few weeks ago after she presented me with a copy hot off the presses. Some are longer than others but every one connects somehow to her marriage to Johnny, even if indirectly. Here's a sample:

"Boyfriends. I never had so many boyfriends until I got married. They love me for being happy elsewhere."

And might I add, all three books I write about here are also great objects to own. Each distinctly beautiful in its own way. But MY MARRIAGE A TO Z is the most delightful to hold and breeze through and keep around to admire and dip into repeatedly, thanks also to the illustrations by Sophy Naess.

And then there's an old favorite newly translated by John Ashbery. Rimaud's ILLUMINATIONS, a series of prose poems I first read as a young man and fell more for the poet's legend than the words.  But Ashbery has brought Rimbaud's particular poetic genius back to life for me with this translation. It's more accessible and yet more quirky and original than others I've read over the years, kind of like Ashbery's poetry itself. I'm not going to quote an entire piece here, but just as a sample of the purity of the translations, here's the first paragraph of ANGUISH:

"Is it possible that She will have me pardoned for my continually squelched ambitions,—that an affluent end is compensation enough for ages of poverty,—that a day's success can lull us to sleep, forgetting the shame of our fatal ineptitude,"

It's almost a prediction of Rimbaud's fate in some ways, which was always one of the most powerful aspects of his writing, that such a young man (most of his work completed before he was twenty-one, some of the best when he was still in his teens) could use the juxtaposition of unexpected words and images to evoke a future not just his but poetry's, and often all of ours.


tpw said...

Excellent post. All three (or four) of these artists are inspirations. John Godfrey has long been a trail-blazer; Elinor is a totally distinct voice in contemporary poetry; and where do you begin when it comes to Ashbery or Rimbaud? So: Viggo Mortensen as Godfrey; Bernadette Peters as Elinor Nauen; Anthony Hopkins as Ashbery; Ed Norton as Rimbaud.

Lally said...

I was gonna argue with some of your casting, especially Norton, but then I looked at that famous photo of the young Rimbaud and damn: Edward Norton!