Guest blogger Don Paterson is a poet (Rain) and editor at a publisher in the UK.
I read Jamie McKendrick’s versions of the contemporary Italian poet Valerio Magrelli when they came out in the UK, and I was delighted to hear that FSG is publishing them in Vanishing Points. Refracted through JM‘s bone-dry wit, Magrelli reads like an Italian Charles Simic—which is just about the world’s classiest arrangement, in my book. Also check out Magrelli’s Instructions on How to Read a Newspaper, which has a subversive little poem on everything from the bar code to the small ads; trust me, The New York Times will never look the same again.
Is it really more than nine years since Gjertrud Schnackenberg published The Throne of Labdacus, and can someone have her speed up just a little? GS really is a glory of a poet, and one of the most shamefully underrated in your country, if you’ll forgive a Scot for telling you so. Supernatural Love is never far from the bedside table. If you’ve somehow missed out on her, go read Two Tales of Clumsy, and wake at 3 a.m. to the sound of your own screaming. I know I did. On the subject of underrated Americans, I try not to miss an opportunity to rave about the late Michael Donaghy’s Collected Poems, still not published in the United States. Yes, he was a dear friend of mine, and yes, we published him in the UK—but I’m pretty sure that even if that hadn’t been the case, I would have still claimed he was one of the great poets of the age. We all did; he was a huge influence on a whole generation of UK poets. Like Frost, he sounds light but reads dark, and his poems open up slowly to reveal themselves as constructions of staggering complexity and ingenuity. They’re like little self-winding clocks, built with all their fixed and moving parts completely interdependent, something Donaghy learned from Paul Muldoon. They’re also full of wisdom. I never fail to be amazed by his work.
What else is great? Everything by Kay Ryan and Anne Carson. Charles Wright’s Sestets. Mark Doty’s Theories and Apparitions. From the British poets, look out for Paul Farley’s indispensable selected, The Atlantic Tunnel. Also Alice Oswald’s Weeds and Wild Flowers, and a lovely, quiet, wise book called Grain by John Glenday.
This year for National Poetry Month, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publisher Jonathan Galassi
has agreed to say a few words about our upcoming poetry collections.
You can expect his comments here every Tuesday and Thursday for the
rest of the month.
SESTETS is, I believe, the ninth book I’ve done with Charles Wright here at FSG. We did a couple at Random House before that, too, in the early eighties. I fell in love with his hypnotic melancholy, his never-satisfied hunger for transcendence, the sheer beauty of his imagery, and above all with his mesmerizing sound. Charles’s project is an ongoing adventure in that is one of the great poetic creations of our moment. Charles has submitted the substrate of his longing, his tender memory, his knowledge of loss and beauty, to many tests, formal, and ever seeking the elusive reward of oneness—with self, with the world, with the supernatural. SESTETS represents one of his most radical experiments, but by no means the only one. Here the test is to confine the poem within six lines.
Here’s one, almost at random:
Music for Midsummer’s Eve
Longest day of the year, but still, I’d say, too short by half. The horses whacked, the dog gone lost in the mucked, long grass, Tree shadows crawling toward their dark brothers across the field.
Time is an untuned harmonium The Muzaks our nights aad days. Sometimes it lasts for a little while, sometimes it goes on forever.
A song lyric, almost—country music of a philosophic cast of mind. Fact, reaction, image, opulent metaphor—and suddenly you’re on another plane, in timelessness, and it all happens before you’ve even realized it.
I first read Charles’s early book BLOODLINES and heard the echo of one of my great heroes, Eugenio Montale, in those terse, intense lyrics. Charles is more relaxed now, by the compression, the immediate movement from here-and-now to elsewhere, is the same. No one else does it with his inspired sleight-of-hand.
It's almost becoming route for me to say, when posting these poems from James Wright, that there's a fantastic last line--but I really think this one, from 'The Journey' may take the cake:
"...The secret / Of this journey is to let the wind / Blow its dust all over your body, / To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly / All the way through your ruins, and not to lose / Any sleep over the dead, who surely / Will bury their own, don't worry."
Here's the whole of Wright's poem 'The Journey,' read by Charles Wright back in 1996. (We'll have more of Charles Wright reading his own poems later today.)