Saturday, August 27, 2016

George Kalogeris to read at The Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading presented by the Hastings Room

George Kalogeris

George Kalogeris to read at
The Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading
presented by the Hastings Room
Wednesday 14 September 2016
At First Church Congregationalist
11 Garden Street near Harvard Square at 7pm

write-up by Michael Steffen

Last week, in our first announcement of this year’s Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading, I talked a little about David Blair and his new book. David will be one of the readers honoring Heaney at the reading in the Hastings Room on September 14th.

This week I wanted to say a few words about another of our readers, George Kalogeris. He
is the author of a book of paired poems in translation, Dialogos (Antilever, 2012), and of a book of poems based on the notebooks of Albert Camus, Camus: Carnets (Pressed Wafer, 2006). His poems and translations were anthologized in Joining Music with Reason, edited by Christopher Ricks (Oxford, 2010).
George studied under Derek Walcott, who familiarized his students with “the kind of serious, meticulous attention to craft” the young Kalogeris had been seeking.

George is listed by the Poetry Foundation, in particular for his recovery of a lost Holderlin poem titled “In Lovely Blue,” which appeared in the April 2009 translation edition of Poetry magazine.
Dialogos includes translations from poets of a stunning diversity of languages, classical and modern, Pindar, Sappho, Theocritus, Juvenal, Holderlin, Radnoti, Pessoa, RenĂ© Char… This anthologism supports Kalogeris’ professorship in translation of the Classics, and as an adept, not of a poet or class of poets from the past, but of the art of translation itself. In praise of Dialogos, the prestigious translator/poet David Ferry speaks for the humanity of generosity in George’s work, and his ability to render these texts into English as seamlessly as though they were original English poems.

George teaches English Literature and Classics in Translation at Suffolk University. 

The first Heaney Memorial Reading was held in August 2014, and I remember George being there and making his compliments afterwards. I was later to learn of his particular admiration for Heaney, which has recently been made manifest by a wonderful elegy to Heaney, “Seeking Clearance,” in the online journal Berfois. I’ve provided the link to the journal and most of the first four tercets of the poem for our readers.

Snow was falling fast and the poet was late
For his class in Emerson Hall, where I sat on a bench,
Without a Harvard ID or a poem to my name,

But as wildly anxious as those swirling flurries
Were holding him back—Oh fast as the falling snow
Was trying to let me know, if I caught its frantic,

Counter-clockwise drift, that poetry always
Came slow. Slow as the snowflakes melting fast
Into Seamus Heaney’s smarting, congenial eyes,

Three decades ago. So long for what I saw
To thaw into seeing things as they were at the start,
In winter light.

                                    From ‘Seeking Clearances’ by George Kalogeris

In a recent email to me, George gave me this for what he was planning for our reading on September 14th:
I’d like to read these Heaney poems: “Alphabets,” the fourth section of Clearances (“Fear of affectation made her affect…”), and “The Haw Lantern.” I’ll talk about Heaney’s language in relation to his childhood memory, his elegiac restraint, and the way his political poems spring from the “right there” world around him. I’ll try to read some poems of my own that connect with these.

In the diversity his own meditations, Heaney himself was “adept and dialect,” to quote from a piece in Station Island, “Making Strange,” a poem that addresses the overcoming of divisions between different classes of people. Himself rustic by birth and a man of letters by intellectual inclination, Heaney inherited a great ambidexterity in middle ground. He was good at finding and forging vivid images that captured the not-so-visible yet powerful trends of the times, of history.

During the Troubles he looked to the Vikings’ double heritage as primitive barbarians with pre-empyrean restlessness and reach to call out the brutality of the approaches of both the domestically unsettled Irish Nationalists and the occupying British provocation. When Heaney calls out the ancient Norsemen as—

            neighborly, scoretaking,
            killers, haggers
            and hagglers, gombeen men,
            hoarders of grudges and gain

—which one as a correlative does the contemporary reader identify? The passage reminds us there are a lot of people not given to violence and sectarianism who are caught in between, always.
     In her published monograph on Heaney, A Singing Contest, Meg Tyler (the feature reader for this year’s Heaney reading), has observed that “Heaney’s impulse is toward unity and regeneration. [His] poetry represents a structure allowing imaginative mediation of conflicts that appear irreconcilable in the social, political and historical realms.”

     The poem “Viking Dublin, Trial Pieces” in fact has a curious power of equating, like an algebra solution, both sides of the conflict, in their own character of “scoretaking,” grudges and violence. By looking to the past, the poem takes an unusual distance to speak in broad, general terms to a spirit of divisiveness in general. It could as easily address the many instances of conflict and unwillingness to negotiate differences we see in our world today, from what’s happening in Syria to our own Congress.
     If Heaney was adept at speaking for external conflicts, he often examined the same subtle powers of vision about his own—or any individual’s—internal uncertainties.

     The book The Haw Lantern concludes with an ingenious conceit titled “The Riddle,” with its double meaning for the tool of a mesh used to sift or separate liquid or finer materials like sand or powder from conglomerate matter or clods. Domestically we use strainers in both senses, to purify tea leaves from tea, or pasta from the water it’s boiled in. In the first instance it’s the liquid that runs through which we are after, in the latter the spaghetti that sticks to the mesh that’s important. The utensil itself, acting indifferently, becomes physically the device of curiosity that verbal riddles—a genre common to poetry—represent to us in the metaphysical aspect of insoluble questions.

The Riddle

You never saw it used but still can hear
The sift and fall of stuff hopped on the mesh,

Clods and buds in a little dust-up,
The dribbled pile accruing under it.

Which would be better, what sticks or what falls through?
Or does the choice itself create the value?

Legs apart, deft-handed, start a mime
To sift the sense of things from what’s imagined

And work out what was happening in that story
Of the man who carried water in a riddle.

Was it culpable ignorance, or was it rather
A via negativa through drops and let-downs?

The Sunday Poet: Marc Zegans

Mark Zegans

Marc Zegans is a poet and creative development advisor.  His previous collections of poems include, The Underwater Typewriter,  and Pillow Talk. Taconic  is from Marc Zegans’s newest collection, Boys in the Woods, a limited handmade edition from Crane Maiden Books.  It can be purchased at :



he’d never been in forest thicker than stars
when we turned off the grey, moonlit clay road
into the cool black of trembling leaves
a congress of tiny whisperers, voices
fluttering down from the canopy
foreshadowing the physical descent
in the days following frost.

it’s so loud,” he said, reaching for my hand.
it’s so loud…and dark, and quiet and loud
and I can feel the rocks through my sneakers.
I can’t see anything, but I can feel.”
what can you feel?”
the rocks and the air.”
what does the air feel like?”
cool on my arm.
on my face it feels like a soft blanket.

and under my feet I can feel the rocks.
some of them are very gig, an other
will make me trip if I run over them.
I think we need to walk very slowly.”
I think you are right.”
and we need to feel.”
what do we need to feel?”
the space around
our hands and our fingers and our bodies.

so that we don’t go crashing into trees
or go falling down a cliff in the dark.
it is very very dark you know, dad.”
how dark?”
I have not seen this much dark
I cannot see you. I cannot see my hand.
I do not think I can see the forest.
maybe we are part of the forest?

is the noise in this place the sound of god?
do you think god lives here in the forest?
I think maybe we are hearing him breathe.
let’s walk slowly and be very quiet…
just so you will know, I am not scared.
I think not seeing is not a problem.
I like not seeing as we start to walk.

I can smell the lake. it’s right down below.
I can smell great big rocks. we’re near a cliff.
if we move up the hill we will not fall.
look right there, you can see very dark trees.
dad, do you think we are finding a clearing?
I think we might be. let’s see if we are?
look! we can see stars now in the forest.”

he stood giant-eyed, counting countless stars
his blond hair washed white in the moonlight
slowly turning circles, until he yawned
placing his hand once again in mine
as we entered forest thicker than stars
walking now with the knowing of place
that arrives only once in a boy’s life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: If Mercy, Frannie Lindsay

If Mercy, Frannie Lindsay
published by The Word Works

Review by Alice Weiss

To any reader who knows Frannie Lindsay’s work it will come as no surprise that in this collection the poems are lyrical, complex, imagistic, syntactically subtle and musical. But they are also philosophical; they play with with and against logic. Take the title itself and the poem of the same name. If Mercy, is, the first clause of an if/then statement. In logic, if/then is a statement formed by combining two statements, where the second is a condition of the first. In such a statement, only if the If clause is true, can the statement be true. But in the poem the statements are incomplete. A series of nouns substitute for the clauses that follow the if clause: If, August, house, joy, mercy, peace. What is true here is the lightest touch of felt image: If August…

then ocean, with nothing to offer
the blistered foot but salt’s
vacant blessing.
If house, then faucet and drip,
then rust and the putting away
of albums and goblets.
If house, then also the upright piano.

So the question arises, why Mercy, why “then the eroded palms of a saint/
in a dirt-floored chapel.” Because death. Because dying, because that is the way the world is made and the only way to live with it is to believe in mercy. The poems feel their way to solace. Shade, shadow, darkness, each becomes a blessing. The weeping Beech that appears five times in the book is at once an “elderly parent of shadows” and “the place where nothing will be lost.” Its blackness loiters “like a vagrant,” its shadows assemble

and weep for anyone who needs
some weeping done: the adulteress
waking up to only sunlight on her breasts,

the child always playing outfield,
the knock-kneed girl sold by her father
for ten-thousand rupees.

Note though, that in all the insistence on the legitimacy of sentiment, the tone of mourning, even the evocation of evil, there is the adulteress waking up to sunlight on her breasts, sly, I think, even heretical, the “only” preceding the pleasure, the sensuality of sunlight and skin. This slight irony would be unremarkable if it weren’t for the intelligence with Lindsay undermines the tone of grace, does battle with the necessity for grace. 

That adulteress is instructive because the structure of the book is defined by
Magdalene “drawing her tresses… over the aches of the earth.” We weep for our sins, the mercy is in the weeping, but is it? When, as a reader you stumble on the tone breaking raspiness “The Thirteenth Fairy Comes Back to Even the Score,” or the extended conceit of “ To Heartache,” 

the same dress you always wore
hiked up to your terrible thighs
just so the weeds could brush them.
you turn back to all those magnanimous images of the weeping beech and wonder wonder what you missed. 

Take the poem “Abraham.” Twenty lines of truly complex poetry, Dante-esque in its allegorical structure, twisting and transfiguring the intended sacrifice of Isaac into a foreshadowing of the birth of Christ It begins as a narrative:

Now he climbs the hill believing
His handsome son is the ram God needs as proof.

If you already know the Abraham/Isaac tale, and the poem assumes we do, the story is over. The switch is made, the ram is already here. Abraham, believing,

Leading the boy up the known and rocky
face of the hill, doesn’t he love this child
more than the bulb adores its one lily?

Suddenly, the narrator becomes an implicit I, a shocked observer turning to us with a horrified question. Look at the image and the syntax, the bulb adoring the lily, the grammar seems off and the allegorical content seems to hit us on the head, and this is a speaker we have learned from the beginning of the poem customarily delivers elegant language and complex imagery, so a note of ringing doubt. Then

Easy enough to imagine the quiet
that shuttle’s between them
its awful resonance
… and the breeze on the gleam of the axe blade.

Easy? “awful resonance,” axe blade. The phrase creates the powerful turn. Easy enough is repeated in the next line,

Easy enough to imagine Sarah at home
with nothing important to think about,
folding the muslin bedclothes,
. . .rejoicing still. . .
that her womb has laid aside its years
of fatigue and borne them a son.

The reader’s first response, or at least mine, is to find the turn to Sarah strangely bitter given what we know is going on over in the hills. But then before I understood the allegory, I saw in that shift of attention a kind of mercy to the reader to go from the gleam of the axe blade to Sarah rejoicing. Except for the two ‘easy’s’ that function as connectives to turn the poem. Here is, at least, a carefully designated narrator who boths believes and doesn’t believe. How easy is that flirtation with death and transfiguration for the speaker. How slippery is it to escape the outraged helplessness in the sixth line? How strange to be a God who sacrifices his only son.

My favorite poem is “Apple Juice,” a scene with a daughter at the hospital bedside of her dying father.

So I sat him up and tried again
to help find the words
for juice and thirsty. . .

followed by the expert exploration of details that characterizes Lindsay’s work only here in the context of developing the drama, the relationship with the father.

Dad, you’re thirsty, it’s her job
to bring you things you need, and he said
oh and What and I said juice
again and button, press

Monday, August 22, 2016

College Radio (1975) Allen Ginsberg/Piri Thomas

Allen Ginsberg
Piri Thomas

I have interviewed hundreds of poets and writers over the years—but I can remember my first subjects back in 1975—when I had a short-lived campus radio show “Idea Exchange.” I had a lot of fun working for the station. I remember being expelled from the office of a conservative Buffalo city councilman for challenging his proposed ban on nude magazines, by pointing out that there were a lot of nudes in the city’s Museum of Fine Arts. Then I met Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was on campus at the State University College at Buffalo—so I went to see him. There I saw him dressed in a white gown, with fringes of very long hair, and a balding crown. He and a group of others were banging on Hare Krishna drums—reciting  mantra- like phrases, “ If you want to make love, then make love,” “ If you want to die, then die,” etc… He for all the world looked like my Uncle Sy   (A walrus mustachioed --hipster—who lived in Greenwich Village for many years).  My radio station manager happened to be at the event and asked me to interview him. Being an apple-cheeked innocent, sporting a tweed jacket with patches and an Irish cap, I asked, “ Who is he?” The manager said:  “ A prophet!” Well I never interviewed a prophet before, so with great trepidation I made my way to Ginsberg and a group of his friends. For all I knew at the time-- his friends could have been fellow Beat poets—Corso, Ferlinghetti, or the like. They looked the part of bohemian, bearded bards, and they were looking at this fresh-faced boy with their  jaundiced eyes as I approached them with an overly-earnest and awkward gait. I looked at Ginsberg and said, “Mr. Ginsberg I wonder if you could be on my radio show?” His cohorts rolled their eyes and started to snicker, but Ginsberg was polite, saying: “I would love to, but I have a party I have to go to.”  Of course after that I discovered the Beat Generation of poets and writers, and realized Ginsberg’s major contribution to the promotion of this literary genre.

I did manage to secure the author Piri Thomas for my show. Thomas was the author of “Down These Mean Streets.” He wrote about his hardscrabble life in Spanish Harlem—the gangs, the drugs—the poverty—the violence. He’d punctuate almost every sentence with “Check it out.” For a suburban kid from Long Island he was a total exotic. His whole manner, his stories, his street sensibility, his outlaw literary bent, was totally different than anything I experienced in my sheltered 20 years. But these nascent experiences sparked my interest in interviewing and reporting that really didn’t reach full fruition until about 20 years ago.  I always feel that there is some latent passion in every person, and if it is activated someway… well he or she is very lucky person indeed.