Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

From Rilke: Enough

April 19, 2013

I read Sonnets to Orpheus in the way one listens to ambient music. It is largely passive. I listen to sounds without trying to pick out tones, entreat images without trying to string them together or decode some meaning. I read it absentmindedly,  occasionally imagining the interior environment of the small Swiss hut Rilke wrote Sonnets in over the course of a few days in a dreary white February some time ago.

Until he grabbed me: In three lines, removed from context by pure distraction, the poet Rilke in his casual way, accidentally explained to me the nature of human endeavor in science.

Even the starry union is deceptive.

But let us now be glad a while

to believe the figure. That’s enough.

From Sonnets to Orpheus, Part 1, Sonnet 11.

Here is the outer limit of what we can see, the edge of our universe: the Cosmic Microwave Background. What it expresses are temperature variations among the photons that are streaming at our satellite eyes from the Beginning of Time, i.e. the Big Bang. It looks almost like noise, but really, this data speaks to how fast the universe is expanding, the universe’s age, and dark matter and dark energy. Planck is instrument that took the data that made this map, which was released last month. It is the third generation of data collecting satellites that has set out to make this map, each improving on the one before, giving us better accuracy, finer resolution, and more reason to believe our own guesses about the origin of everything in the so far observed universe. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful images in science.

As cosmology pieces together knowledge, maybe some solace can be wrung from “believing the figure,” for now. But don’t forget that observation “is deceptive”: If you can’t convince yourself and your peers to believe the figure, you can’t move forward, you’re stuck. And even if at some point it is comforting or interesting or thrilling to accept a perceived truth–the decontextualized Rilke warns us–we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the itching feeling that this new truth may only be a truth for “a while.” Our knowledge is in constant evolution.

Of course, dear Rilke, on longer timescales, it is never “enough.”


Is my reading of Rilke as such, incorrect? Probably. Yes. Who cares? I’m not a literature student.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Re: Previous post, the daily saga will be reporting in the very near future from the University of California, Berkeley, once again. Let the fun times begin.

figue, figue

October 10, 2012

From the rift in the fig skin flows,
in noiseless explosion, a dense
ruby jam–But those aren’t seeds!
I remember the other children,
the augurers, would cry: Wasp eggs!
Figs are wasp nests, and the eggs
mimic seeds, to hatch in the throat,
you know, to sting the esophagus,
a million, million times.

Now, the pith of the fruit is a luminous red between fingers.
I sit unmoving,  afraid to eat.

Armchair Tranströmer: Från Mars -79

March 25, 2012

From March 2011, Ca-al-li-for-orn-ia

A bit of a silence here, you may have noticed. Calm before the storm, you may have guessed–and you would have guessed right. Let’s just say: PhysicsLand, reprise, Tuesday. Go.

Before all that, before the rush of an April in colder air, there’s this: I wanted to translate my first and favorite Tranströmer, lest March should pass and I should neglect to share it. Here it is, from the book “Det Vilda Torget, ” translated as well as the original.

From March -79

Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I make my way to the snow-coverd island.
The wilderness has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out in every direction!
I come across the tracks of a deer in the snow.
Language but no words.

Från Mars -79

Trött på alla som kommer med ord, ord men inget språk
for jag till den snötäckta ön.
Det vilda har inga ord.
De oskrivna sidorna breder ut sig åt alla håll!
Jag stöter på spåren av rådjursklövar i snön.
Språk men inga ord.

Armchair Linguistics: Tranströmer

February 25, 2012

I have a book of Tranströmer, untranslated. I got it in the mail. I thought, this should be interesting. I thought, why not? So here comes one. Oh, and let me know if something doesn’t, erm, make sense.

Prelude, from “17 Poems”

Waking up is a skydive from dreaming.
Free from a choking whirl sinks
the traveler, toward the morning’s green zone.
Things flame up. He recognizes- from the
trilling lark’s vantage – the noble systems of treeroots,
their underground swaying lamps. But above ground
there is- in a tropical flood – greenness, with
lifted arms, listening
to the rhythm of an invisible pump. And he
sinks towards the summer, slipping down 
into its bright craters, down
through shafts of greendamp ages
trembling under the sun’s turbine. So it is halted
this vertical journey through the moment and the wings
spread out to the osprey’s perch over rushing water.
The Bronze Age Trumpet’s
outcast tone
hangs over the abyss.
In the day’s first hours consciousness understands the world
just as the hand grips a sunwarmed stone.
The traveler stands beneath the tree. Shall,
after the crash through the whirl of death,
a great light unfold over his head?
Uppvaknandet är ett fallskärmshopp från drömmen.
Fri från den kvävande virveln sjunker
resenären mot morgonens gröna zon.
Tingen flammar upp. Han förnimmer – i dallrande lärkans
position – de mäktiga trädrotsystemens
underjordiskt svängande lampor. Men ovan jord
står – i tropiskt flöde – grönskan, med
lyftade armar, lyssnande
till rytmen från ett osynligt pumpverk. Och han
sjunker mot sommaren, firas ned
i dess bländade krater, ned
genom schakt av grönfuktiga åldrar
skälvande under solturbinen. Så hejdas
denna lodräta färd genom ögonblicket och vingarna breddas
till fiskgjusens vila över ett strömmande vatten.
fredlösa ton
hänger över det bottenlösa.
I dagens första timmar kan medvetandet omfatta världen
som handen griper en solvarm sten.
Resenären står under trädet. Skall,
efter störtningen genom dödens virvel,
ett stort ljus vecklas ut över hans huvud?


November 9, 2011

in midnovember a season when all human dreams are the same

a uniform blotted out history, like that of a sun dried stone

Prose is Hard

September 19, 2011

Creative writing class, week one:

I turn in a piece of fiction meant to emulate a scene from Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”  The professor is confused. When I explain how it’s like, supposed to be like Faulkner and all, the boys with square glasses start to come out and say they, actually, quite liked it. This is all well enough for me, as the approval of people wearing square glasses is all I ever really aim for in all endeavors semi-artistic. No one in the class, however, gets the reference to HC Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” I’m partially heartbroken and partially relieved.

Creative writing class, week two:

I attempt to use a linear storyline, a relateable main character, and  lyrics to Cowboy songs. I try to write sentences instead of lines, paragraphs instead of stanzas, and choose words for grammatical and logical coherence rather than just purely sound. I end up writing something I’m not too fond of. But the professor absolutely loves it. “What did you do different this week from last week?” he asks.

Later on in the class, I explain how I really liked one of my classmate’s pieces because I could really understand and relate to the main character’s almost uncontrollable obsession with finishing a somewhat mundane project. The author later reveals that said character is meant to be schizophrenic. I’m somewhat perturbed.

Creative writing class, week three:

I spend all morning mountain biking with Sabrina in Marin (via the technical prowess of KP) and don’t start writing until three hours before the deadline. All I can think to do is recast a scene that’s been playing in my head, but that must have also existed somewhere within an Ingemar Bergman film at some point. I decide to run with it. I set my story in a very cold place and name my character Lena. There’s lots of bleakness and introspection. I had to restrain myself from writing parts of it in Swedish. I’ve apparently also sunk back into back to nonlinear time, grammatical disaster, and depressing, psuedo-demonic themes. My teacher’s gonna love it, and my classmates are definitely NOT going to think I’m insane.

Från Rilke, med kärlek : From Berkeley, with love

October 10, 2010

I am working on a post about the walkouts at Berkeley.  Somewhat suddenly last Thursday I found myself challenging my professor to answer, in front of the class, as to why we in the Sciences do not stand with the Ethnic Studies and Anthropology and History and Political Sciences departments when they walk out in protest. I thought I already knew the answer. It turns out I only sort of did.

To be filled with ideas and words but not have the time or energy to write them because of a looming Quantum exam is almost as frustrating as being forced to write in essay about something an English teacher told you to write about while all you want to do is analyze semiconductor circuits. The timing always seems to be off.

So no post. Not yet. For now, the words of the German poet (written while he was living in southern Sweden, a mere 10 km from Lund) will have to suffice.  Having recently discovered these letters, and discovering that once, Rilke lived in Skåne, I’ve been reading them between each wave function I calculate. And as it always is with Rilke, it feels as if he is speaking directly to me.

To Clara Rilke, written from Borgeby Gård, Flädie, Skåne, Sweden.

“I am not idle, and there is nothing lazy in me; all sorts
of currents and a stirring that through depth and surface is the
same. A very good stirring. I am not even writing a journal,
just keep hoping to get through all sorts of letters yet to be
written and to read my way through all sorts of books yet to be
read….In spite of all this it seems to me that I am
building; at the invisible, at the most invisible, at some founda-
tion; no that is too much; but that I am breaking ground for
something that is to be erected there sometime; a perfectly in-
conspicuous activity for which day laborers and hod carriers
suffice (one thinks).”

A very good stirring. Like perturbation theory or like forcing nerds to talk about politics and philosophy or finally, finally starting to write.

Dorchester (Casterbridge)

July 19, 2010

Warning: this is epic and long.

It smells like the ocean. That was the first thing I thought as I stepped off of the 6 AM train into Dorchester, the grey sky above me just waiting to burst in rain.

Dorchester is a place I have always known by a different name: Casterbridge. In my junior year of high school, my English class read Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge.’ Everybody in the class despised it. The language was too old, the descriptions to long, and the events…to ordinary (for lack of a better word). Everbody in the class despised it, that is, except for me. And so began my infatuation with Hardy’s special brand of pastoral tragedy- the complicated and confused nature of his characters, the oddness of his description, and his romanticization of the everyday. Hardy has the vocabulary of a latinist, the eye of a stonemason, and the heart of a Dorset farmer. I have always said that his prose is not always as consistently masterful as, say, Jane Austen, but for me as a 16 year old student of literature, his dealing with themes of fate and mortality seemed more exciting than questions of civility, or of marriage and not marriage. The events that transpire in his novels where shocking by Victorian stantards, and his way of handling them in literature considering the context of his time was infinitely intriguing. In short,  I became a member of Team Hardy.

And as everyone who has read Hardy knows, his books are very strongly based in place, so much so that the landscape almost becomes a character in its own right, full of mad will and spasmodic resplendance.

So, Dorchester it was. I had to go.

When I arrived the town was not yet awake, the the streets where empty and the tourist office would not open for another hour, so not really knowing where I was and going soley on the what I had remebered from Hardy’s own half real, half fantasy descriptions I did the only thing that seemed natural: I began to walk. I walked through the empty, grey streets, being certain to mark the details of the stone work on the buildings as I passed. There was the church, the clock tower, the old fountain in the middle of town. Soon I passed a sign pointing in the direction of something called the ‘Roman Townhouse’, and with nothing better to do, I followed it.

I reached the townhouse at the top of the highest point in the city. The ‘townhouse ‘ was a ruin at best, but some beautiful roman mosiac floors remained. I sat there alone and ate my breakfast pondering the strangeness of the Roman settlement in England and thinking of Hardy’s lines about how Dorest houses the dead of that ancient empire.

When the tourist center finally opened and I procured a map and made my plan for the day.

First it was off to the market, the site where in Hardy’s novels the local corn merchants and farmer do business with each other. Today, it is just as lively but the goods that are traded are more like old junk, tacky trinkets, and of course, food from local farms. Walking through the crowds of bustling people, I tried to imagine Bathseba Everdine (From ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’) walking amongst them, the only woman-farmer in a the male dominated world of agricultural commerce. I myself bought a piece of carrot cake and a hunk of black pepper cheddar cheese.

Next up was Mambury rings, which are large parenthetical-shaped mounds made for some reason or another by anicient peoples and was used by the Romans as an amphitheater. Today, it is used for outdoor Shakespeare performances, and I regretting not being in Dorchester on a day of a performance. Shakespeare in a Stone Age monument sounds fantastic.

Next I walked a couple kilometers through the countryside to Maiden Castle, England’s (and possibly Europe’s) largest Iron age fort. All the while through the country side I was thinking of  ‘The Return of the Native’  and the characters’ long, wild walks through Egdon heath. As you can probably tell, most of my day was spent in my own imaginary Hardy-world. It was fantastic.

When I at last reached Maiden Castle, it was too foggy for me to see the structure from a distance, so I hiked up the first set of mounds in order to get a closer look. Upon realizing the ture enormity of the monument, I decided that I had walked far enough, turned around and walked back into town.

Next up was the Dorset county museum, which is a tidy and well-kept little musuem inside an old Victorian-decorated cathedral. There were a lot of the types of things that fascinate me: old farming implements, Roman remains, portraits of the Duke of Monmouth (who apparently was very popular in Dorset). The pinnacle of the visit, and the reason I had come, however, was the Thomas Hardy display on the top floor. The relative sparcity of visitors to the museum allowed me to spend quite a lot of time examing the manuscripts they had, pondering Hardy’s small, neat handwriting and the odd way he formatted his poetry (some stanzas aligned to the left, others justified). And then there was Hardy’s own title page for my favorite of his novels, ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles’. It was quite an experience to read the words ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles: or, A Pure Woman’ in Hardy’s own hand, and to realize that the edition of the Novel Ihad read several years earlier had in fact preserved the orignal format of the page. I was satisfied knowing that Hardy, as a poet (poets are often concerned about such things) would be satisfied. I stayed in that Room for quite a while, reading what I could of the orginal manuscripts and trying to imagine Hardy’s creative process.

I left the Museum to go back into town, and walked down the main street, know full of people as it would have been in Hardy’s day, in order to view that house that is immortalized as the house of Micheal Henchard in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge.’ It is a brown brick house, very proper, and is now a Barclay’s Bank. I stood there for a moment trying to picture the cloistered Elizabeth Jane peering out from the second floor window. Next I walked by The Kings Arms, which is know a Best Western Hotel. It seemed to fit actually.

The journey I saved for last on that day was the walk out to Strindsford, to the small Parish Church where T.H.’s heart is buried. This time, walking through the sheep fields, my imagination dwelled on Tess, and her long, solitary wanderings- as well as her non-solitary ones.

I at last reached the church, it was very small. When I went in I realized that it likely looked exactly the same as when TH was baptized there. Being alone in empty stone churches in the middle of teh English countryside is a humbling and transporting experience, and for some reason I felt the urge to sing a pslam aloud. So I did.

I went out of the Church and found the small, unadorned white tomb in which Hardy’s heart is buried. The rest of his in in Westminisiter Abbey, where the Queen wanted him, but is heart, as always and as ever, lies in Dorset. I sat there for a while and paid my repspects, and thanked him for the insight, inspiration, and imagination that he has given the world of literature, and especially for the strong effect his words have had on me.

Satisfied at last, I walked back to town, said my last goodbyes to ‘Casterbridge,’ and caught a train to my next destiation: Bath. Stay tuned, and thanks for putting up with my Thomas Hardy stuff.


Farm in Uppsala update: I HATE CUCUMBERS AND GREENHOUSES. that is all.

Response to “The New Sentence” by Ron Silliman

October 29, 2009

Warning: This is an experiment.

Today I had to write a response to two essays from Ron Silliman’s “The New Sentance,” a rather complex work detailing his philosophy on where the development of literature is going, where is needs to go, the limits of prose and poetry, and the prose poem. I had to read the entire second essay and write this response it just one hour. I should have spent more time on it I know. This is the sad truth, and I own it.

But since I had to write quickly, I decided to undertake a little experiment. When I write on through the WordPress interface, I am generally not worried about sounding academic, or even about how my posts will shape out. I just write them-and that is what the one hour time limit on this assignment was forcing me to do-just write it.

So I thought, what if I write the response in WordPress? Maybe my response will be refreshingly unacademic, maybe I won’t be intimidated by Microsoft Word and all of it’s highschoolessay academicmarvelofrapturousthought connotations? What if…I just wrote it?

And so I did. And I finished in one hour (50 minutes, to be exact).

After I printed and turned it in, I realized that this draft was still on my Blog. I thought to myself, why not post it? It is an interesting topic to explore, how the physical process and interface of writing effects what is written. So here it is. In all of it’s hasty, un-copy-edited, and experimental glory:

Ron Silliman’s essays on LANGUAGE and Towards Prose included in his book, “The New Sentance,” are not so much on the literary theory as they are on the Theory of the foundation of literature, or what he defines as the most basic unit of literature: the sentence.

He asserts that Prose fiction as a form, and as we know it today, is driven by the epic narratives of Poetry. And considering the scope of “literature,” I tend to agree. In Silliman’s philosophy, the sentence is the most bast unit of literature, as opposed to words which, are of no use outside of sentences except to writers. And except of course when one word also forms a sentence. It seems odd to suggest that words have no meaning. But really this is a valid point. For, what meaning do words have unless offset by other words and contextualized?

On page 72, Silliman suggests that the discourse of literature lies somewhere in between the discourse of the everyday and the discourse of science. This simple, statement can be seen as a sort of summing of all that Silliman is trying to prove: That the sentence, and indeed literature, is nothing that is exclusively defined in its own right-and deserves a new interpretation, in effect, The New Sentence.

Silliman instead evokes something he refers to as Prosody, defined by the treatment of the paragraph as a unit of measure, the construction of sentences out of sentences rather than words. And a movement of the poetic form moved into the inferiors of Prose (89)

Silliman’s idea of a “New Sentence” seems much more a long the lines of thought than of writing. It is concise, powerful, and can be very perplexing but really makes perfect sense (because why else would you be thinking it?) And why, then, does Silliman believe that this “New Sentence” lies in the form of Prose Poetry? It is because Prose Poetry is that in between place, the place between the creative moment and the transcription where thought lives, the place between the everyday and the scientific, the place where, according to Silliman’s previous assumption, literature and the new sentence lives. A New Sentence  looks like prose, but with interior poetic structure.

And so, Silliman has to ask, then, what is Prose?

Prose, he seems to suggest, is  a sort of writing that has a definite aim. Again an again, he evokes dipolar stucture, between the science of writing and the intution and emotion of meaning, between phoneme and grapheme, between speech and writing and language. His idea of prose poem (very different of what is often considered “poetic prose”) is suggested of a means of transcending genre to create an authentic literature, providing some remedy to the assumption that “writing is therefore no more a disguise for language than is speech” (106). The New Sentence, in Silliman’s point of view, will tear open the way we think about and categorize literature.

wow, that was awkward

October 2, 2009

As is happens, I have recently decided to make my study of literature a private endeavor. Meaning: I dropped my English class. It was a quaint little class titled “The Epic,” was co-taught by a medievalist and a modernistic and was populated by hipsters, art connoisseurs, budding philosophers, aspiring poets, endearing slackers, one civil engineer, and me.

I dropped it after reading Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid, after grappling with weeks of abstract lectures, and after a heated discussion with my roommate which primarily consisted of me changing my mind about whether or not to drop the class every couple of seconds and her generally agreeing with me each time. It all ended two hours before the drop deadline-when I finally brought myself to push the little button with the simple yet profound message: “Drop Class.”

So after a lengthy and pseudo-philosophical blog post about the interconnectedness of humanities and sciences, I have willingly severed one of my ties to the humanitarian world. Welcome to the dark side. Does this mean I get a red lightsaber?

But hear me out. While reading those venerable epics, I shuddered at the destruction of the Trojan war, I marveled at the strangeness of Odysseus’ journey, I felt the depth of Dido’s rage as she cursed Aeneas and all of Rome. I could truly hear the magic of the poetry and see the foundations of the western tradition taking shape before my eyes. Sitting in the ungainly tropical heat of the lecture hall while the kid in front of me fell asleep and the professor told stories about his mother, all of the wonders I had discovered on my own were flattened out into bland academic abstractions. I ultimatley decided that the class was not enriching my experience with the poems, and I would be better off experiencing The Inferno (the next text on the reading list) on my own.

Dropping this class means I don’t think I will be an English major. But dropping this class has also made me realize that I don’t need to be an English major to be a student of literature and a writer. Whew.

So, what about the awkward part, you ask? Let me dramatize it for you (I do so adore the theater). And guess what: it takes place in a bathroom.

Scene: Third Floor Wheeler Hall bathroom. You now, the one that looks straight out of Harry Potter with the porcelain sinks gathered at the center of the room and marble-walled stalled enclosed by hefty wooden doors.

I enter the bathroom, there washing her hands is the female professor (the medevalist) from “The Epic” I dropped the class and I haven’t been there in a week. She eyes me as I walk by and enter a stall.

Me: (Internal monologue) What do I say? Do I say hello, or do I tell her I dropped the class because she probably think I am a deadbeat who has been missing lecture. She probably doesn’t even recognize me, maybe? Godness, I hope she’s not still there when I come out.

I exit the stall, and much to my dismay, she is still there.

silence persists.

Me (without saying hello or anything): Sorry I dropped your class. You know, “the Epic”.

Prof: …

Me: It was just too much, I am a Physics Major (and apparently a liar) and I couldn’t do it.

Prof: oh, that’s ok. (laughs)

Me: It wasn’t you (true: it was the other prof.) or the class (again with the lies!) It was a great class (my nose is growing!) I was wondering, if I am still doing the reading, would it be alright if I showed up a t lectures sometimes?

Prof: Sure! Of course! (she really is a very nice person).

Me: Thanks! (doh!)

Prof. walks out the door. I am left alone and very socially awkward in the Harry Potter Bathroom.
END SCENE. and career in the English Department.