After a hiatus …

After a hiatus of many years I’ve been reading the poems of Roberto Juarroz (1925-1995), an Argentine who published fourteen volumes of verse between 1958 and 1997 (this latter posthumously, of course) each numbered and under the general title ‘Vertical Poetry’. I like the spare and often cryptic nature of his poems, which make me think in different ways, or perhaps feel differently, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s really the same thing. Here’s an example from the second book of ‘Vertical Poetry’ (1963), as translated by W.S. Merwin and published by North Point Press, San Francisco in 1988:

     ‘A bird is flying between two clouds 
      but there is another that flies
      the whole time inside the cloud

     And there is yet another bird that raises
     one wing outside and the other inside.’

A bit like a Zen koan, I suppose, which is meant to jolt the person who meditates upon it into a new state of consciousness, a kind of poetic slap in the face. I can’t read Juarroz for long unbroken periods, however, because I find his imagery and language to be too abstract. And I soon move beyond the point of new awareness to the conviction that I will get lost in mere word play and verbal gymnastics if I’m not careful. I try to keep my own verse, or what there is of it, a bit more concrete,  while still leaving plenty of room for unexpected and what, for me at least, are somewhat provocative images and expressions. Such as this final stanza from a poem I’ve just written entitled ‘Las Golondrinas’ (‘The Swallows’) and which I haven’t yet translated into English. It’s about standing rooted to the earth while watching a flock of swallows darting and swooping hundreds of feet overhead as they build their nests at the top of a sheer cliff in the desert:

     ‘De mi pobre guisantal, de mi pobre riachuelo
      Hago esfuerzas para alcanzar aquella region del reyezuelo
      Que ya da vueltas en mis manos como un sol de dia ardiente
      Aunque las nubes del desierto en los piñones lloriquean.’

     ‘From my poor pea plot, from my wretched little stream
      I strive so hard to reach that lofty region of the wren
      Which yet spins in my hands like a sun in hottest day
      Though the clouds of the desert do snivel into the pines.’ 

Oh, well. I’m having fun, at any rate. Brief meditations to suit the quirkiness of my mind. I find that, oddly enough, I can concentrate on this type of work for somewhat sustained periods even with three young dogs grouped artfully around me in various stages of repose. They have been getting used to frequent rest periods throughout the day, the only times when I’m able to get anything non-canine done, since earliest puppyhood. And they seem to like it, though if I need to get up to fetch a dictionary or pad of paper, or merely to take a sip of water in the next room, they instantly leap into full and frenzied consciousness and imagine that the entire program for the rest of the day has instantly changed. Perhaps I can make a poem out of that too. 




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