Friday, January 30, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
This link is of interest too. Are there American poets who maintain this level of socio-political engagement? Why not?
Sunday, January 25, 2009
And, of course, useful phrases:
I am going to beat you to death: Ich gehe zu schlagen Sie zu Tode.
My hovercraft is full of eels: Mein Luftkissenfahrzeug ist voller Aale.
I am going to beat you to death: Je vais te cassé la goule.
My hovercraft is full of eels: Mon aéroglisseur est plein des anguilles.
Late in the 13th century there was a loss of strict form and subject matter (fin amors) to more secular subject matter (ex: "Roman de Fauvel" which is a satire about the abuses of the church).
In the early 16th century poets focused on sonorous experimentation by les Grands Rhétoriqueurs (de Belges, Molinet) before Petrarch influenced them along with Greek revival, centered around Pindar and Anacreon influences. Poets began writing lots and lots of sonnets and Clément Marot and Mellin de Saint-Gelais are cited as having written the first sonnets in French.
During the middle of the 16th century, French poets were still writing lots of sonnets, Pindarian odes, mythology, and blason of female form.
De Baïf and de Vigenère attempted to meter French poetry but because the French is not a heavily stressed language and does not have many long or short syllables, it was difficult to follow the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew poetic meters (called vers mesurés).
At the end of the 16th century there was a lot of pessimistic poetry, probably due to the civil war.
During the 17th century l'honnête homme (the honest man) poetry became one of the principal modes of literary production of noble gentlemen and of non-noble professional writers in their patronage.
During both the 17th and 18th centuries poetry was used for everything: births, deaths, weddings, wars. It was also the main form of theatre. Poets during this time also wrote epics and satires.
Poetic games became popular in salons and those poems often contained intense metaphorical language, epigrams, satirical verse. Many intelligent and noble women, called les précieuses (the preciousness) wrote this poetry, and were often mocked by men.
By the 18th century, forms (esp. sonnet) were avoided and poems began to look more like prose.
Some famous french classicists: de Fontaine, Racine, Boileau-Despréaux
Hugo was HUGE-O by the 19th century. There was lots of realism, symbolism, and fin de siècle ("end of the century," often marked by decadence in moral vision).
There was a turn toward the objective by the middle of the 19th century. Poets began to focus on strict form and emotional detachment. Baudelaire became popular because of his naturalism (read: pessimism and matter-of-fact bleakness). Mallarmé and Rimbaud fought against the standard of poetry and strove for more symbolism. In returning to form, poets again focused on the sonnet, which Baudelaire reinvented many times in les Fleurs du mal.
In the 20th century, Appollinaire invented Calligrammes (visual poetry), and poets began to write about urban life.
And then WWI happened. Thus came Dadaism: Freud's unconscious: Surrealism: parlor games like cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse) and lots of alcohol and drugs were attempts to unleash the unconscious mind.
Poets previously thought to be radical (Baudelaire and Rimbaud) were looked up to and the bourgeoisie was looked down upon.
Post-war: philosophical, phenomenological, existential ideas from Heidegger became popular.
For written and some spoken communication, French and German are favored. French is the language of the intellectual elite, and used in scholarly articles, courts of law, and for official documents. German is also used for written and oral communication, especially by the general populous, due to its close ties to Lëtzebuergesch.
This diversity of language gives Luxembourg a vibrant cultural diversity. Theatre companies from France, Germany, and Belgium frequently play in Luxembourg, and film screenings are equally diverse. As for the literary world, the Luxembourg writer is essentially forced to write in a learned language, rather than the commonly spoken language, which can be limiting. Creative endeavors in Lëtzebuergesch are most often seen in lyrical poetry and local theatre, which focus on speaking rather than the written word.
More reading here.
German has also been dominant as the literary language in Switzerland. Like with Austria, it is uncommon to hear of a sovereign literary movement within Switzerland -- these nations are, by most, considered to be German in language and culture. This, especially when considering Switzerland, must be taken with extreme caution -- Genève, for example, is in the French speaking border-region of Switzerland -- the writers of Genève write in French and are considered to be French writers…this is to say that there is, among the Swiss (according to a variety of recourses), no specific national identity...it is impossible to make generalizations as every town and region is wrapped up in a highly specified cultural-geo-political-lingual situation.
• Swiss Literary Culture since 1945: Productive Antagonisms and Conflicting Identities; by Michael Bohler
• Cultural Pluralism and Linguistic Equilibrium in Switzerland; by Kurt Mayer
• Why Switzerland? By Jonathan Steinberg
p.s. A few of the links require you log into your MyBama account. Then you'll go right to the article.
The idea of a national identity also brings up another question I would like to briefly address --
(please consider the following as a prompt for discussion in class)
With the 'New European Poets' text, it is evident that we will be addressing the question of translation throughout the semester -- lacking both the original texts and polyglots in the classroom, certain lines will always elicit the question: is x oddity the result of an apt translation or is it simply a mistake? Should such a question even be considered in making a value-judgment regarding any of the poems in the text? If we enjoy or dislike a particular poem should it affect that original reading of the poem if we come to discover that the translation is one of a heavy-handed, careless nature?
Not only are we faced with a book that is entirely comprised of translations, but it is also a book organized by nation-states. Self-evident questions arise: what is a nation-state? what is a boundary? what is the purpose of organizing a book in such a way? in what ways is it misleading? is every nation like Switzerland as I previously described it (accurately, I hope) -- is a statement such as "it is impossible to make generalizations about a nation?" accurate?
And then there is the postmodern, postcolonial context to consider. We found it interesting that, in the 'France' section, the editors made an effort to represent the immigrant, North African voice in France while in the Spanish unit, for example, we hear the voice of a British immigrant and not a Moroccan...
I have been searching for a theoretical-excerpt from something to bolster this -- if I do manage to find something, I will post it on Monday, so check back if you wish -- for now I think this ought to suffice...
At the moment I approach the shore, the white shores
under a sky of beams and rush, the refuge
of a lizard—its tongue, its drowning eyes.
The door rattles, the shutters—just barely,
under the light pressure of wind, where a whole world perishes,
a deaf pestle crushing, sun
in the ruined mortar of another world.
Cradled by the complaint or laughter of childhood
weapons are laid down outside; and liquid armfuls
in which grace cannot be contained; like water,
if not deep, refused, deserted,
I fell asleep, I asleep without finding sleep,
the sea birds, the storm clouds—
*How does the tone of the first two stanzas inform the subject matter?
At the indefinite limits
of the city which goes to ground, at that border
littered with camels fettered together, there, where the animals live
—the sky thrust into their stomachs
by turbulent handfuls of stones, of sand—
where all my life leans into another body,
the shoulder of a child dares,
without guiding anyone along the blindness of streets—
where my hands are no longer mine in the way they brush
locks, forges, the fire
that is governed by your absence.
*How does place influence the poem artistically and politically?
*Who is the speaker and why did Grégoire choose this speaker?
QUESTION FOR BOTH POEMS:
*How is the identity of Other informed in each of these poems?
Monday, January 19, 2009
If there are any, what are the relationships between geographic and political situations, and poetic language? Does poetry "naturally" change because of the location in which, and circumstances from which, it's written?
That's a cool question to ask right at the beginning of our reading an entire anthology of EuroPoetry(TM). Over time I guess it must, necessarily, if only because poets of a later generation often will be cognizant of the changes of prior generations. They inherit the categories. A protest poem we might compose is likely to be in some way informed by the protest poetry of the prior generation, maybe? The language might change over time because we inherit, or at least cannot escape, their language?
And it gets me thinking about just how many irresolvable troubles we're going to have if we try to make any generalizations about what we're reading as we move through this anthology. Think about all our impediments!
- The poems are in translation so we're not really hearing or understanding what the authors sound like or mean.
- Each country and/or language is represented by poets and poems selected by the editors from amongst many others, so we can't really know how "representative" the selected poets and poems are.
- Each poet, country, and language has its own peculiar literary, cultural, political, social history which yes, must of course have some effect on the poems, or at least must provide contexts at least helpful and perhaps even crucial to understanding the poems, and we simply aren't capable of assimilating all that contextual information.
- Inevitably, when we read these poets, we have a tendency to assign them to categories familiar to us, but those categories may not be remotely applicable to these poems and poets.
And so on! I'm getting panicky! It's a bit early in our journey to raise such a dangerous question, but what exactly is the point of reading these poems at all, when it seems pretty clear that there's no chance we'll understand them as their authors intended for them to be understood?
Saturday, January 17, 2009
- We might think about the kinds of poetry that are represented in these sections, including persona (Lopes, 4), "personal" narrative (Casado, 23), something that seems like Imagism ("Cardiogram," 22), theory-influenced poetry ("[the panopticon]," 12), allegory ("The Tale of the Hedgehog," 10), complaints about the uselessness of poetry/language (Wolfe, 18), and plenty of poems that seem more linguistically "traditional," in that they are based on language (nouns, esp.) that seems timeless (Branco 3, Mendonca 5, Montero 13, Pino 14, Wolfe 18, Rangel 19), although some have contemporary images too. Many of these poems also seem traditionally lyrical, in the sense that they are the overheard thoughts of an individual "I". Also, they don't seem to be using much of what we in the U.S. associate with the avant-garde: repetition, agrammatical syntax, parataxis, etc (although in some cases it's admittedly hard to tell). Why is that, do we think? What is it about Portuguese and Spanish poetry that calls for a more traditional lyric?
- The lack of typically "avant" aesthetics seems somewhat surprising here. These aesthetics have, we believe, existed on the peninsula before, certainly in Spain, and we wonder how much this "lack" has to do with the editors of our anthology, and how much it has to do with any kind of trend or direction dominating in Spain and Portugal today.
- We'd also be extremely interested to hear what anyone has to say about pp. 6-7 in our anthology. Mendonca's and Cabral's poems seem to distinguish themselves only very subtly from each other, and yet we think this distinction might do well to illustrate a certain dichotomy we sense within the lyric vein they share, namely that between a kind of vitalism (Mendonca) and intellectualism (Cabral).
- If there are any, what are the relationships between geographic and political situations, and poetic language? Does poetry "naturally" change because of the location in which, and circumstances from which, it's written?
The history of poetry in Spain is much more difficult to pin down, if only because the history of Spanish-language poetry is so vast and various, and often gets confused with the history of poetry from Spain itself. However, Spain, like Portugal with “Os Lusíadas,” pivots its history of poetics around a larger national epic, the “Cantar de Mio Cid,” written in 1140 in the form of 3 major cantos through mester de juglaria, or the verse form of the minstrels dominated by assonance rather than rhyme. For a link to this “Song of My Lord” in English, click here.
Castillian narrative poetry, or mester de clerecía, replaced the minstrel verse in the 13th C. Learned poets, usually clerics (hence the name) used consonance, Alexandrine syllabic lines and quatrains to especially explore Christian themes and the lives of the saints.
By the middle ages, lyric poetry again dominated, but also again, there is a distinction between the poetry of the commoners (folk-songs or jarchas) and the poetry of the educated noble class. Such historical class distinctions in the realm of who was entitled to the language of poetry are especially interesting in light of our modern readings of poems like “The Tale of the Hedgehog” (whose simple language can’t save him from death by materialism), or lines like “Poetry is useless, it serves only / to behead a king” (from “Poetry,” p. 13).
A vacillation between a longing for both complication and simplicity in the language occurs throughout the next few movements in poetry. By the 15th-C. Renaissance in Spanish poetry, the poets of the age are interested mostly in uncomplicated diction and syntax, preferring to eschew what seems to be unnatural or overly wrought language. The poets of the Baroque period take the opposite tack, and are later accused by poets of the Enlightenment for privileging a twisted rhetorical structure. Romanticism in Spanish poetry continued to prize folk art and customs as well as to elevate subjective experience but through stylized presentation, while the Realist poets of the 19th C. again returned to simpler descriptions of everyday experience.
20th C. Spanish poetry, then, accepts these struggles of the ownership of language and how best to articulate lyric through language and poetry becomes highly politicized in light of the destruction of Spain’s fleet in Cuba by the U.S. in 1898. A restless generation of Spanish poets is born, some heavily nationalistic, such as Lorca, and these poets (into the present day) are often forced to grapple with how modern technology, economy, and machinery factors into their love of the national and natural world of Spain (again, see “The Tale of the Hedgehog” and the stanza in “Poetics” which reads “I know that other poets / disguise themselves as poets, / they go to their offices of silence / they manage their banks of brilliance, / they calculate with essence / the balance of their internal assets, / they are the torchbearers of the kings and gods / or they are the tongue of hell” (14). An interesting link between these issues of consumerism, Tuscaloosa, and Lorca, it seems that the room where Lorca was taken from before he was shot in ‘36 has been converted into a restaurant called El Rincon (de Lorca). For a tour of Lorca’s Spain, click here. And for another fun link of Lorca, where someone has artificially animated a still photoraph of Federico to read one of his poems, watch this YouTube video.
And, to tie our countries’ sections together…
…a video of another Galician poet, Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín, speaking at a rally. (The poem doesn't start until the end of the 2nd minute, and then its cut off, but a fine opportunity to listen to the interesting combination of Portuguese and Spanish that is Galician)
as well as the same useful phrases, this time in Spanish:
How are you? ¿Cómo estás?
I love you. Te amo
My hovercraft is full of eels. Mi aerodeslizador está lleno de anguilas.
The History of Poetry in Portugal:
As far back as the ninth century, Portugal has had a rich history of poetry written about a retreat from and eventual return to native land, including a special preoccupation with the natural elements of Portugal as well as mercantilism (see “Elisabeth Doesn’t Work Here Anymore”) which was often what drove natives from Portugal in the first place. This history culminated most completely in the 16th C. Portugese epic poem, “Os Lusíadas” by poet Luis de Camões. For a link to the poem in English translation, click here.
OR For a link to the poem scrolled like movie credits in Portugese while Evanescence plays in the background, click here.
While this music may seem an absurd background, from the 12th C. on, Portugal was heavily influenced by the troubadour culture, causing three main poetic modes to emerge: “cantigas de amigo or love songs addressed by a female to a male lover; cantigas de amor or love songs sung by a man; and cantigas de escárnio or songs of mockery, criticizing or making fun of somebody or something—a kind of cosmopolitan ambiance can be detected” (Marques 101). Lyric, as opposed to narrative, then, has always been the dominating poetic mode of Portugal.
However, by the 16th C., Portugese, as a language, began to be considered “rustic and vulgar,” fit more for the marketplace than the poetic stage, and until the 1700s when new Portugese universities began to revive poetry as a point of study, much in terms of Portugese “cultural individuality” was lost (Marques 323).
Skip ahead to the 20th century, and you find, in terms of a cultural individual VIP, or as Joel indicated, Portugal’s Elvis-Shakespeare, Fernando Pessoa. Bob Holman wraps up Portugal’s poet worship of Pessoa when he writes, “When you discover Fernando Pessoa, you don’t walk into a new room of poetry, but into another wing. Hop over to another planet. In solar system Po, he’s Planet X, orbiting just outside, shadowing everything going on in our busyness. More than any other human, he lived life solely in his poems, his life a shell for the literary movement that was himself” (“Fernando Pessoa, Poet as Poetry”). Indeed, Pessoa’s work appears not only under his own revered name, but under many heteronyms (pseudonyms with their own distinct biographies and writing styles). More complete information on Pessoa can be obtained in Richard Zenith’s article on the link Joel posted to Poetry International Web (direct address for Portugal: The links on the right will take you to three of the four poets anthologized in New European Poets, but Rosa Alice Branco gets the shaft.)
Portugal has struggled to maintain its poetry in the Portugese language. Young or old, at the time of the 1974 Carnation Revolution, in which the left-leaning Armed Forces Movement [AFM (or, in Portuguese, Movimento das Forças Armadas, or MFA!!!)] overthrew Estado Novo, which had been in power since the early 20th century, all the poets anthologized in the Prufer and Miller text certainly benefited from the freedom of speech afforded to them in Portugal after the coup. But the poets don’t use it in the heightened sense with which we equate many English-language poets.
Richard Zenith, one of the translators in the book, wrote a brief piece for Poetry International in which he contends there was a “national inferiority complex” in Portugal when he first moved there in the 1980s. There appears to be no such complex evidenced in the poems, but it seems as though they refuse to heel to the aesthetic Zenith discussed: “timelessness, a cultivated melancholy, an elevated diction, an aura.” Most specifically, the heightened, charged language largely doesn’t materialize in these poems. “These days poems written in Portugal – even when rhetorical, sentimental and lyrically rapturous – generally consist of a rather limited number of short verses written in straightforward language,” Zenith exhorts. Later, regarding Rui Coias, he writes, “[His poems] avoid the merely pretty and scorn the notion of poetry as a set of well-rounded verses, as proven by verses ending in words such as ‘the’ or ‘that’.”
Some useful phrases in Portuguese:
How are you? Como está? Como vai?
I love you. amo-te, eu te amo, eu gosto de você, eu amo você
My hovercraft is full of eels. Meu hovercraft está cheio de enguias.
For a breakdown of the Portuguese language, as well as to hear Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Portuguese, click here.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Pessoa was the dominant influence in Portuguese poetry for generations and remains a figure to be reckoned with still. In a gesture which prefigured many of 20th century literature's preoccupations -- identity, existentialism, self-consciousness, etc. -- he divided his poetic self into four distinct poets, each with his own biography and style. (You can learn a little about each of them here.) It's impossible to overemphasize his importance to Portuguese literary history. The Portuguese feel about him like the English do about Shakespeare.
Poetry International has pages for Adília Lopes, José Tolentino Mendonça, and Rui Pires Cabral, each of whom is represented in our anthology.
And here is a somehow charming YouTube video of still photographs of Fernando Pessoa and his extended family