Friday, December 9, 2016

The Living Dead

I Can Still See You
By Paul Celan (1920-1970)

I can still see you: an Echo,
to be touched with Feeler-
Words, on the Parting-

Your face softly shies away,
when all at once there is
lamp-like brightness
in me, at the Point,
where most painfully one says Never.

I knew little of Paul Celan and his work until a friend posted something of his on facebook and I was moved to investigate further. I had always thought he was French, because of the name, and also because I had imagined him to be a surrealist poet and connected him in my mind with Andre Breton and co. But in some hasty research for this post I discovered that he was not a surrealist, and that he was Romanian by birth and also wrote in German, his mother's language.

He did eventually settle in France, married there, and became a French citizen. That was after some horrendous experiences during World War II, because he was Jewish.

A succinct account of his life says:

Paul Antschel (changed to Ancel, then Celan in 1947) was Jewish, born in Bukovina. Celan studied medicine at Tours. In the summer of 1942 his parents were shipped to a concentration camp in Transnistria, where his father died of typhus, and his mother was shot in the neck and killed. Celan was conscripted to road-labour in Moldavia until 1944. In 1945 he was in Bucharest and traveled via Vienna to Paris in 1947. He became a lecturer at the École Normale Supérieure and married Gisèle Lestrange. Deeply troubled by the Holocaust and his parents’ deaths, he committed suicide, by drowning in the Seine.

More details are in the Wikipedia article about him, which also quotes him as saying:

Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all.

After the War, he wrote in German. Some commentators think he felt it as a kind of triumph to write about the horrors experienced under Nazi Germany in the German language. Others feel that German was too limited a language for his innate lyricism.

He may not have been a surrealist, but his work is often considered difficult to understand, even allowing for the fact that many of us read it in translation, not the original. As witness this statement by one of his translators:

'' in order to experience the poetics of Paul Celan as rendered in English, one must understand that no one translation will ever be adequate enough. Though each translator successfully identifies elements of Celan’s discomfort, no single one fully encompasses all three. 
A reader wishing to fully intake Celan’s words in English must become a comparative reader, a critical reader, and most importantly a reader 
who understands that perhaps one of Celan’s most discomforting elements is that he didn’t always wish to be understood. '' 

[Goodrich, J., Rhyme or Reason? : Successfully Translating the Poetry of Paul Celan,2008] 

At Poetry Foundation there’s a fascinating discussion of Celan’s language – and poetic language in general – by the celebrated Ilya Kaminsky, who seems to question the accessibility so many of us strive for.  Perhaps it’s fair to say, at least, that some poems (some works of art in any form) are worth persevering in the attempt to understand, and may be all the more rewarding for that perseverance.

To me, in much of Celan's work it is not so much that the language is unclear, but that where it leads is mysterious, not fully explained. This is perhaps because of what is described at Poetry Foundation:

As his career continued, Celan worked to “purge his poems of readymade contexts - whether historical, traditional or explicitly religious. The late poems still abound in allusions - private, hermeneutic, esoteric - but increasingly each poem becomes and creates its own context and the context within which Celan's other poems must be read.” 

The poem above is not difficult, however, and I think it's very lovely.

You can find a free download of 28 poems here, or browse them online. (This is where I found the succinct account of his life quoted above.) There is a different collection at PoemHunter.

And you can find many books by and about him at his Amazon page, including poetry in the original German, and  bilingual editions with English translations.

And now, because the one I chose is short, here is another short one for you. I find this one a little harder to fathom. But with some poems, perhaps the only thing to do is surrender and let the images wash over you.

This Evening Also

more fully,
since snow fell even on this
sun-drifted, sun-drenched sea,
blossoms the ice in those baskets
you carry into town.

you demand in return,
for the last
rose back at home
this evening also wants to be fed
out of the trickling hour. 

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Aviation

Civil aircraft. Photo: ICAO
Civil aircraft. Photo: ICAO

“Working Together to Ensure 

No Country is Left Behind”

(Theme of International Civil Aviation Day for 2015-2019)
“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who... looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space... on the infinite highway of the air.” ― Wilbur Wright

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Amelia Earhart"Aviation, this young modern giant, exemplifies the possible relationship of women and the creations of science. Although women have not taken full advantage of its use and benefits, air travel is as available to them as to men."--Amelia Earhart

“Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.”― Amelia Earhart

Midweek Motif ~ Aviation

Today's motif may feel like a complete change of subject, 
but it can be as political or non-political as you make it.

7 December is International Civil Aviation Day. Interesting that it is the same day as the USA National Pearl Harbor Remembrance. Do the two uses of aviation~for war and for peace~balance each other out? 

I rarely fly.  I've been finding flying increasingly uncomfortable from airport security and wait time to take off, flight service and landing. But still, flying to a remote location for vacation is a privilege that carries romance as well as discomfort and danger.

Our Challenge: Compose a new poem from the point of view of someone looking out the window of a flying machine.

Laurie Anderson's "From the Air"

Related Poem Content Details

(At What Used to Be Called Idlewild)
The line didn’t move, though there were not 
many people in it. In a half-hearted light 
the lone agent dealt patiently, noiselessly, endlessly 
with a large dazed family ranging 
from twin toddlers in strollers to an old lady 
in a bent wheelchair. Their baggage 
was all in cardboard boxes. The plane was delayed, 
the rumor went through the line. We shrugged, 
in our hopeless overcoats. Aviation 
had never seemed a very natural idea. 
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE at the Poetry Foundation.)

excerpt from New York to San Fran

Related Poem Content Details

. . . . 
Once more wingtip lifting to the sun
& whine of dynamos in the
stunned ear,
and shafts of light on the page
in the airplane cabin — 
Once more the cities of cloud
advancing over New York — ­
Once more the houses parked like used
cars in myriad row lots — 

I plug in the Jetarama Theater
sterilized Earphones — ­
it’s wagner!
the ride of the valkyries!
We’re above the clouds! The
Sunlight flashes on a giant bay!
Earth is below! The horns of
Siegfried sound gigantic in my ear — 
The banks of silver clouds 
like mountain ranges

I spread my giant green map
on the air-table — 
The Hudson curved below to the
floor-drop of the World,
Mountain range after mountain range,
Thunder after thunder,
Cumulus above cumulus,
World after world reborn,
in the ears 
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE at the Poetry Foundation.)


BY Amelia Earhart

Courage is the price that Life exacts

     for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not
Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
     The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul's dominion? Each time we
make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day,
And count it fair. 

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community.  AND: please put a link to this prompt with your poem.  

(Next week Sumana's Midweek Motif will be Music. )

Monday, December 5, 2016


This feature will touch your hearts, my friends, especially those of you who love dogs.  It began as a poem of the week with other poets, but over the course of putting it together, events conspired which told me to honour it with its own feature. We have three heart-catching poems for you today, penned by Michael Phan, whom we know as Grapeling, who writes at his blog of the same name. 

They are tear-jerkers, especially for we dog lovers. Keep some Kleenex handy, and let's take a look at Michael's moving poems about his dogs, Johnnie and Schooner. I always say dogs are Love Buddhas, and these two certainly prove that theory.

Johnnie on the left, Schooner on the right
Michael Phan photo


I carried him, black hairs furring my white shirt, into the back yard and sat him down on the grass between the Meyer lemon tree, redolent, and the red delicious apple tree now busting out a hundred pippins, and together in the dark we surveyed his domain.

Over there behind the prickly bush he used to spirit plastic bags, until we finally (large brains and all) figured out where all the bread was going: he was stealing it from high off the counter and sneaking it to gingerly devour in his private dining room, hidden from view, until the detritus of perhaps 40 bags (we’re slow learners) leaked out from behind the bushes and his secret was revealed.

Heads together, we looked at the blackberry brambles now filling the blank spaces between the black fence bars, the slender blueberry stems straining for fall, the tall but not yet productive pear tree. We looked at the bits of birch cones that always found their way onto his fur and into the house. This was his yard, and he sagged into my arms.

Where did those seven years go? Eight nearly, in people years, so for this sweetest black lab, was it fifty? It was a life lived at breakneck speed and long, lounging sleeps on the couch or bed, happily resting his jaw on the sofa arm, or especially as he lay down on his green checked dog bed, he moved his paw and arm over mine while I scratched his chest, and sighed that doggy sigh, heavy enough to flap his lips and make that whinny.

He struggled up, not making it, so I propped his haunches and he stuttered a step, two, resting again until I swept his old bones and blood dotted with something else and tuna-smelling breath and that curly black fur into my arms that can’t hold him enough, and held him, not enough, back inside to his bed, leaving his darkened yard behind.

He won’t be greeting me in the driveway, tearing from lawn to lawn and spinning like a dervish in love and devotion, and I won’t be chasing him back and forth like a six year old, and it’s too much for him to sneak a loaf from the table, he wouldn’t eat the pesto, even, offered like to a gouty Roman senator.

The chemo ended Friday and he was spry, Saturday he aged like clay in the oven, Sunday his right leg stopped working and his eyes sank, and Monday his rear haunches announced they no longer cared to walk. Last week he was sliding up onto the couch like old times, if no longer chasing to meet the neighbor dog at least he’d saunter.

Time is leaking out of his life faster than a bee swarm. The yellow flowers from the pepper tree out front litter the driveway, those bees are relentless, they smile their secrets into the pepper and bring forth pungent and color and a brown stain on the concrete and those yellow florets dropped onto his fur and into the house, and soon there won’t be any more spins of a dog on his lawn or on the brick living room floor and I’ll have to lay down to gather those bee’s lunch remains and pretend Johnnie will be sniffling up to lick my chin and ask for a scratch behind his ears, and these years and moments that swim before us like silvery minnows as we drink up, drink up, drink in the water of our days in the heartbeat of an old black dog.

[Originally posted on my first grapeling blog in February 2012, during Johnnie’s last days. Now it’s Schooner’s turn.]

Sherry: I am awash in tears at your loving and tender description of your boy Johnnie's final days. It is so sad that Schooner will soon be following his brother; heartbreaking that dogs do not live long enough. But such joy they bring us while they are here. Such devoted, unswerving love.

I would love to include the moving poem you wrote two years back about Schooner, if I may. 



He curls, furry, unfurls
his longest spine
like a sickle, a cup, a busker’s hat
throat rumbling for stretched fingers
stepping with strong claws
on your foot until you scratch.
His black eyes are the last
two leaves on the birch
waiting for winter to end.
Blood, bark, steady heartbeat
are yours
no matter what.

Sherry: Oh, my goodness, Michael, those two last leaves on the tree, waiting for winter! Their hearts are ours, no matter what, as no other being's is, so unconditionally. Thank you for your beautiful, moving poems, with which every dog lover can relate. 

Michael: Maybe it's because they're the better us: love without limits, eyes with no deception, and perfectly ok with eating shit and smiling about it. 

I, or my ex and sons, have had black labs for 20 years - first Bumper, then Johnnie Be Goode, then Schooner - and each of them is, of course, the best boy ever. 

Yours is too, right? 

Maybe I hedge. Maybe I say 'there's no better dog than you.' 

That way, they can all be the best, and I'm not lying. Who could lie to a dog? And if you could - well, I don't want to know you.

Somehow, Schooner has hung on, but this time, it really is the end days. So, as with Bumps and Johnnie, I hold him as tight as he lets me, and scratch his chest, and let him stand on my feet.

I think he's telling me 'Hineni'*. 

Dog speed, Schooner, and every dog I've ever loved.

(*Hineni: "Here I am, I'm ready, my Lord.")

[Note: As I was  putting this feature together, in mid-November, Michael emailed me that dear Schooner was making his way across the Rainbow Bridge to join Johnnie Be Goode.]

A boy and his dog
Schooner, on his last day

Sherry: Oh, Michael, my heart hurts for you. It is so hard to lose these beautiful souls. I found a poem written a while back for Schooner that I would love to include here, if I might.

you, love

you, love


all of us are dogs
even when we forget
to bark.
you, love
with your bright black coat
shedding in my fingers,
your rapid, shallow breathing,
stuttering, betraying legs,
furred head that smells like grape candy,
how you pin my foot with your paw
so I can’t move when I stroke your ears,
your voice a throaty, laughing growl;
how your steps are numbered;
how I will carry you to your final embrace
tomorrow, or the next.
and you, love
who stepped away yesterday
with golden-white fur long as love,
candled eyes, a voice that rarely spoke
except when I came to the door
even after years distant
to rumble greeting,
your snout nosing my knees
and your chuff a purr, as it were,
as much as a dog might;
I will forget our slow walks
when I am dirt.
        *****         *****

Sherry: Oh, my. "With golden-white fur as long as love...." Dog-love, and our love for them, is one of the purest loves around. Thank you for sharing your boys with us, Michael. Such devoted, loving beings, and too soon gone.

I hope you had your hankies handy for this one, kids. Sigh. Do come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!