15 December 2008

Featured Poet: Jules Gibbs

“Instead of seeing,
we should make excavations in the eye; instead of hearing, we should juxtapose sounds
in an emotional clitter-clatter.”

— Wallace Stevens, “The Irrational Element in Poetry”


Deep in the jejunum, factory
of post-vertebral reasoning,
a concordant tome

produces a quasar, a nolo

prow for the cocky free speech

of her conceptual A posse.

The historic nonstandard

of her one congratulatory chromosome

says: You’re blocked; he’s Virgo
as any jellyfish, recherché, hopes you’re free.

Volcano at fifteen, she’s a woman

by reprisal, catalyst

doing battle, unashamed

as an evening gazette corrigendum.

It’s like the last rational brain cell

whispering to a girl gone wild: Tussle,

you got some time —your future depends on it.

As many other girls have discovered
the hard way,
there’s nothing worse than creating
an expectation — then failing to deliver.


It’s so male, the road to Berlin,

so cognac and generous

with its prompts and sign-in

guidelines. Who here can explain

Rensselear aquatics?
Just do the notation—

in the parallelized loop variables
ii, jj and kk are private
to each thread
while n columns and n rows

are shared. Everything by definition:
boolean; ocean; chuff. A tycoon

with pretensions.

Wie lange bleibst du heir?

Empirical evidence says:

Let’s keep in touch.
Wait —

I almost forgot my greatcoat,

my shelter, my soup of maturity —


We succeed in two vital areas:

toner and ink. Samples are being shipped

to your area now. Yes, it’s true

forgetfulness can be a symptom

of more serious problems: renal, miasmal,

the coming crash of civilization —

the government’s aware of all this —
how could I be wrong? Buns full fledged;

suppositories at your privation; bras

discounted; nicotine cravings cut.

Science has proven the human body

doesn’t have to age — you simply place

a drop in your drink, then

search/ chat/ flirt/ date.

She might say she’s glad to fuck you again,

but you can’t really evaluate a sentence
you don’t possess with your memory.

Go ahead, oink — please her many, many times.


Epic Alexander claimed the I

in Pythagorean, the too
in fervent, but not the lion.
You have the experience but lack

a proper university degree.

Still, with Sirius receding,

Salvador can mitigate.
Is it worthwhile to expedite

the asynchronous

retrieval of the redshank?

Let’s go check it out —


How did we stumble upon
this chromatogram of web

recomendada, a dot-com

beautification project?
It’s abusable.
Try again, preponderant churchgoer —
I think I can help you work out
the fit, design and power

of your gingerbread sloop
and when all that is done

commit to the market-wise,
turn your passion into an empire.


Our President is a euphemist, a midshipman
sailing a casket through La Femme Defoncer —

nationally, savagely. Someone wants to meet him.

With scherzo mirth the talking radio hums

strangulation and sunburn, sunburn
and acetylene distillate — a gas station collapse.

Danke fur Ihre Anfrage
, the sagging caliphate

explains the trouble to three level one employees
and then to our Overlord of Customer Service:
As we age, our bodies produce less and less of this, and this
is the very reason we age — ire, jaundice, fearful phylogeny — is it any wonder

people are turning to anti-gravity, sun microsystems, cremation?
For the next twelve weeks they will face
Spartan conditions, deprivation, tasks designed

to take morale to a breaking point.
(It is good to see the pieces of the puzzle
coming together one by one, a pigeon to forge the deal.)
The enquiry arrives like a sandbag
in the baptismal —

in his gotcha exit, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
and now he wants his fingers back.

Jules Gibbs

© Copyright 2008 Jules Gibbs

08 December 2008

Featured Poet: Steven D. Schroeder

Late Night Driver at Lightning Lizard Pizza

Dan ducks out at nine, his shaky, smoky

Econoline panel truck shorthand for Hollywood
pedophiles, serial killers, and terrorists.

A large pepperoni delivered to the First Amendment
porno bookstore counter, but the transaction lacks
a bow chicka wow wow soundtracked encounter

with a bored and horny housewife who can’t pay—
with money, anyway. Even in darkness
with double doors open, the conveyor oven ripples

superheated air everywhere but the walk-in
cooler of pseudosalad lettuce and ranch packets,
Coke cans and precooked Buffalo chicken wads.

(Who would swallow a thing called Lizard Wings?)
Orders for the Comm Corr work release motel,
ever a low-tip zone, quickly slip to zero

after curfew. Perhaps it’s pizzeria hazing
that drivers also wash the dishes in the half hour
silences between phone rings, stuck dough scrubbed

from tubs, hands chapped and crackling—in his office,
the owner scratch scratches a batch of fresh red numbers
using his own blood. Route home a memorized

maze of houses and apartments, the alternator
off-and-on-again fogs with fatigue, its dying
spot a streetlit stop at the right address.

Advice on the Psych Ward

Oh yes, you’re not supposed to be here. If you tell a doctor so, he or she will be legally free to free you. Be sure to shriek it by the Marquess of Queensberry rules, boxing air and baring underwear on your fists.

A doctor is a door you must unbolt. A doctor will bore through your eyelids with four interrogation lamps to ask how you sleep. Say With a bonnie Scottish dirk under my pillow, and he or she will switch your mattress board with a litter box of kittens.


Hand the nurse a can of contraband, Diet Dr. Pepper, for extra gray and Prozac ground into your gruel. Savor the leftovers when you wake with your arms crossed like a lockbox vampire, paler than the hovering fluorescent tubes.

You can trade scissors to that patient for a painting of scissors. That patient you should avoid. That one you can draw on in crayon while the television hums behind obsidian, the idiot doctor doctors oblivious.

Doctor the scabbed flesh on your forearms with bed sheets not fitted for your hidden ladder. Let the kittens lick your wrists. Wait. Then make the ceiling dinge flake with the sudden pain of your escape.

Who Sketches the Sketchers

Doodles of scratches of scribbles of men

with sideways beards pressed down so hard
the paper rips, of women whose necks
are stalks on thickly trunks, fingertips
sharp as pencils, every body
wobbly and daubed with eraser droppings,
when one of the figures, could be he
or she in those block clothes, unsticks
from its backdrop, the flatline horizon,
clouds as angelic heliports, triangular
houses or mountains or flames afloat
in the basalt sea of a lunar crater,
prestidigitates on the tablet
a pen out of its rib, never lifting
nib from page, and leaves its own image
of human: at least eleven dimensions,
asymptote arms and Möbius heart,
hands drawing hands drawing together
so we can drive them aside to add
a shadow miming a sucker punch,
police lights and siren, always amok,
a scar that puckers a pegleg’s length,
and knives peeking from under the knuckles.

Albuquerque Low

The out-of-state delivery truck up the Front Range

to dump its freight, its freezer crates of wet
deadweight spattering the Springs. Parking lot ruts
wheelspin into bottomless crevasses traversed
crosswise in icy reverse. Cataracts crust
the windshield at each skateblade wiper swipe.

Antilock brakes firing hard as neurons,
these SUVs are heading for a wreck
or already had one, skidding sidelong
into oblivion. Downfall drowns
Nevada Avenue, swallows ground
and builds a wholly whitewalled town.
Couldn’t hold a job salting walkways
for Eskimos with only four more

shopping days till Christmas.
Cold hands, blue heart, they say
this winter of bitter drifts
off the offramp, engine block
not hot enough to cook on.
No drive, no crash, no option
to wake from hibernation
in April, numb from months
of the motor shutting down.
Under the seat is a gun.

Steven D. Schroeder's first full-length book of poems, Torched Verse Ends, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX in Spring 2009. His poetry is recently available or forthcoming from Verse, Beloit Poetry Journal, Barrow Street, Court Green, and Verse Daily. He edits the online poetry journal Anti- and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

© 2008 Steven D. Schroeder

21 November 2008

Featured Poet: Michael Theune

The Value of Man

In a museum in London there is an exhibit called “The Value of Man”: a long coffinlike box with lots of compartments where they’ve put starch—phosphorus—flour—bottles of water and alcohol—and big pieces of gelatin. I am a man like that.
—Stephane Mallarmé, letter dated May 17, 1867

One man feels lifted up.
Another, drained.

One man is frightened:
Our emptiness is so real.
One man takes comfort:
So our emptiness is real.

One man marvels.
Another can’t stand that
Our vision rises up just
To give us…this—

Indignant, one man
Thinks this is in bad faith.
Indignant, another
Thinks this is in bad taste.

One man does the math,
Works it out: about
Three pounds and change.
One man wants to know
What is the value of woman?
Is it the same?

One man decides to marry.
Another, to leave his wife.

One man feels angelic.
One man thinks he’ll run amok.
One man wants to know exactly
What phosphorus and gelatin are.

One man decides Christ
Was lucky to have been
Butchered—at least that way
He felt right up to the end
That he had a soul.

Looking at his reflection
In the case’s glass, one man
Sucks in his cheeks a bit.
Another brushes his hair.

Aghast, one man thinks it is too ugly.
Another wonders if it’s too aesthetic,
If the neatly arranged boxes
And the crystal decanters might
Give someone the wrong idea.

One man thinks, Just as I thought.

One man thinks science instills
An appreciation of design.
Another thinks, Evolution.
Another, The Fall—

One man thinks of a grocer’s shelf.
Another of a cold crucible
To purify the mind.

One man thinks it is too antiseptic.
Another wants to know, What’s that smell?

One man thinks, I could do this.
Another wants to purchase one of his own.

One man begins to imagine equality,
A Brotherhood of Man.
Another thinks, Mixed right, this
Material could make a bomb.

One man looks up quizzically at another man.
One man thinks, I am a man like that.

One man finds the experience educational.
Another feels quite simply he has paid
Too much for his admission.

from Orthoparadoxy

A student could acquire a considerable amount of literary knowledge by saying the opposite of what the poets of this century have said. He would replace their affirmations with negations.

Blake: A thing seen correctly reveals infinity.
Bataille: A thing seen correctly reveals that it need not have been . . . and, through that hole, infinity.


The world is a strange mixture of mystery and circularity.


So we live in a post-rational age . . . who cares? There will be more thinking now than ever before. Nothing needs to be more precise than hypnosis.


One fears in the merely avant-garde that the whole gist of the spirit is schism.


Meaning is inevitable. But that inevitability? Madness!


The skeptics know more than they claim to know. The dogmatists know less than they claim to know. This is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
—Is this a skeptical or a dogmatic claim?


Anything said about The Moment must, like all fairy tales, begin, Once upon a time . . .


We live by the truth. We die by the truth. There is no other way.


When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus came up with the brilliant, Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . But what if he had been asked what the worst sin was? Would he have been as good a theorist as René Girard to respond, Mimetic rivalry?


Vision has become a version.


Still, angels and demons are symbols you need guts to call symbols.


Do I contradict myself? Fine, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain platitudes.


To be a saint: suffer appropriately.


Second thoughts are tinder for the flames of Hell.


The infinite distance between the passengers and the pilgrims.


The spirit is willing, but it is not real.


A tension is the natural piety of the soul.


Mysticism: my consolation for writer’s block.


Canetti said, That man interprets death. One might add, That death—interpreted, translated, transfigured—still confounds and sustains man.


Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must scream, laugh, grunt, cry.


I loathe, and incite my soul.


Let’s begin by admitting the big bang was a subtle thing, for, as no one was around to hear it, it was silent, and, as no one was around to compare it to anything, it could not have been big. Ultimately, the term, big bang, seems like special effects, a self-congratulatory assertion of science’s authority, a celebration of its ideas with fireworks.


Cold comfort: God is not forgetful; He is omnipatient.


On the Small Difference between Simplicity and Complexity
The rain that gives the roofers work sends the roofers home.


Appearances must be weightier than Being. Appearances must be supported by the mighty Being while Being requires only the support of a few mere Appearances.


Frost 2000: Good gates make good communities.


Our decisions are big though our lives are small.


After the French Revolution, Byron referred to humans as fiery dust. Now, after the Industrial Revolution and its assembly line, humans are more properly referred to as processed particles.


The modern search for truth too often seems like a search for some loophole in the jargon.


All around the world, the mighty ocean musters all its strength to cry pssst! and shhh . . .


The nature of self-awareness is misunderstood. It is not calm. It is vertiginous, a maelstrom. It happens to calm in times of trouble only because waves occasionally cancel each other out.


The project is not to destroy happiness but to make happiness possible, to humanize it. This, of course, requires discovering what the human is—an unhappy venture, indeed!


Love’s impossibility may be its only hope.


According to Joseph Campbell, the main lesson of the myths through the ages and across cultures is that one might actually, deep within, be sovereign, that one’s true self is majestic. Does anyone believe this anymore? Now, if you want people to go on quests, to change their lives, it might be better to tell them, You were not born to reign, but neither were they . . .


If only I had wished for a young man’s life of mistakes and repentances, long stretches of shame illuminated by moments of inspiration, then I would have everything I wanted.


On the Supposed Unity of Self
Just try explaining your friends to your friends.


Either the world is as I perceive it to be, or else I have been making constant perceptual misjudgments of the world in which case the world would not be the world, but at least it would be mine.


Into how many rivers have I stepped once?


Yesterday is only a day away.


The truth is not an answer but what is answered to.


—after Edmond Jabès

Beneath the streetlamp, snow sweeps
From dark to dark. To speak of facts
Is to go beyond the world.

To speak of the world is to go
Beyond facts.
The godless night,
But still the search for a certain word—

A stack of books with spines like strata.
Arguments settled like dust.
Where the world ends, does the darkness?

No one could say.
The Book of Night opens with and contains
Each longing. The archangels

Protect those who seek the truth.
They make the truth
Impossible to find.

The rustling of a page is the rustling of a wing.

Try To Change the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
—Adam Zagajewski

Try to change the mutilated world.
Of course, you feel powerless.
Of course, you wonder how far
Your voice will go. Of course, you despair.
Nothing changes until it does.
You must change the mutilated world.
Of course, you want to live in peace.
Of course, good yourself, you believe
The world is our spotless source, but
Ask those profiled, tortured, cleansed, slain,
And they will tell you: It is not.
You should change the mutilated world.
Of course, you are not blameless.
Of course, you are privileged.
Of course, you are too proud.
Of course, you like to sing, not demonstrate.
But you must change the mutilated world.
You have no choice: you must
Love and suffer and prophesize and act
Or else mutilate.

Michael Theune studied creative writing at the University of Iowa and the University of Houston. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in various journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, The New Republic, Pindeldyboz, and Verse. Michael is a regular contributor to Pleiades, where he is a contributing editor. Michael also is the editor of Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers, 2007), the first poetry writing guide to focus on the turn as a significant component in poems. He teaches English at Illinois Wesleyan University, in Bloomington, Illinois.

© 2008 Michael Theune

28 October 2008

Featured Poet: Daniel Borzutzky

from The Books

The Book of Graves

“Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us.” (Helene Cixous, translated by Sarah Cornell and Susan Sellers)

The Book of Graves is buried beneath the tower of books. To find it the reader must dig, she must use the other books as shovels, she must dig with her hands and feet, and hide in shadows so that the sun will not burn her. There are few trees near the tower of books, and those that still stand have dead leaves, but at certain times of day the books themselves cast shadows, and we who read must constantly move in order to stay safe from the sun, which, in the Book of Books, burns the limbs off readers, off writers, off residents who live in the world of images, of ghosts, of dreams. Dig for the Book of Graves, the signs say, and you will find it next to a ladder that helps you move from one book to another, from one country to another, from one bloody word to another. Don’t climb up the ladder, the words say, you’ll dissolve into the earth; but if the ladder lets you descend, then by all means, descend, and take the Book of Graves with you, and wait for something to happen, anything—an ant to crawl, a volcano to erupt—and soon enough the third chapter of the grave that is the Book of Graves will open its lid, and you will crawl in, and you will be with the dead, or you will be dead, and the smell of putrefaction will itself be a story. Yes, the Book of Graves is written in odors: this is the smell of the holy book as it is bathed in excrement and shoved into the hands of the bearded man who screams for his mothers and country and who thinks he now is a palm tree or a bit of a rust on a barbed-wire fence: there are countries in his beard: countries of dead hairs that smell of wedding preparations in a country of rubble, a country where the ancient implodes and the modern implodes and the body parts that fall from the sky smell like vinegar; they split open as they fall and more countries fall out of them and the dead countries smell like wet rugs whose shags shelter the last spasms of birds and grasshoppers, lizards and frogs. And the smell of decomposition forms words which involuntarily leap onto pages and form voices, murmurs from a purgatory that is far worse than hell; and the page flips and there are odors: here is the smell of an old, wet, leather binding to a book wherein the dead who do not believe in life after death moan in resentment; here is the smell of blood that has mixed with ink and formed rivers from which fish ascend into a sea-sky where the algae weighs hundreds of pounds and there in the sky on the edge of the horizon the hair burns and the shoes burn and the skin burns off those bodies who were promised that death is sudden but instead it is a long shower of hail and words and words and hail and the hail and the words are interchangeable just as the gas and the electricity are interchangeable and the lightning and the sun are interchangeable and the rivers and the trees are interchangeable. The residents of the Book of Graves are monsters: they are like people who forgot to stop breathing when they die. They breathe and forget, they breathe and forget: the odor of life and memory.

The Book of Echoes

The reader who opens the Book of Echoes finds a village where no one lives and nothing grows and where all the houses are empty. A famished-looking man meets the reader at the entrance to the village. I know that you came to find the Book of Echoes, says the man, who now takes the reader on a tour through the village, but it is gone. It has vanished. Or better said, the Book of Echoes is indistinguishable from the living echoes that the ghost-men and the god-men intone as they search for an exit from purgatory. A few flips of the pages and soon the book disappears and there are ghost-men and God-men who march through the village looking for an audience to hear what they have to peddle. A man opens his mouth and a little bomb drops out of it and when it detonates books and rivers form out of the ashes. The reader opens a page from one of the new books that has been birthed by the bomb. On the first page there is a country and everyone in it smiles. They are not happy but the law says they must smile or their teeth and lips will be ripped from their faces. They smile and sob at the same time and their sobs echo and the little bombs that fall from the mouths of the writers and readers echo and the silence echoes and the tour guide who brought the reader into the Book of Echoes says to the reader: It’s been a long time since you’ve been gone. You have been here before; this village hides in another village in another book that you have previously entered. A bomb falls out of the tour guide’s mouth and thousands of poems spill out and there is a desert and there are bones that tell stories of the families who live on the margins of this book: they are parables, sure, but they too drop bombs out of their mouths and from their arm pits and they store bombs in their knees and they fling bombs with their fingers and toes. And the bombs are like poems and rain and static and the horns of buses and trucks; and they fill the smiles of the citizens; and the echoes of the bombs are like little blessings that teach us how to blow up all the lies that have taught us to live. Yes the bombs in this book are blessings and the citizens smile at them and sob and there are cities on the horizon exploding and bodies falling from air planes and the bodies buzz when the reader holds them to her chest and in the vibration of the lifeless bodies there is one long oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo; and the moment the ooooooooooooooooooooooo ends the reader finds a mirror and in the glass there is a baby breathing in a field and in the bomb that is the baby’s cry there is breath and more breath and there is the memory of the time when the citizens of the village did not smile instead they wore sadness on their faces and they laughed and there were words written in the river, and the river said grow and smile and don’t smile, and there was a leg that floated into the picture and it was a prayer and we tossed it to the citizens and they smiled and read the leg and held it to their cheeks and it echoed across the entire village and the citizens laid down to die in the beds where they were born but they could not die; they could only sob and murmur and smile.

21 October 2008

Featured Poet: Kent Johnson

Kent Johnson lives in Freeport, Illinois, where he has taught English and Spanish at Highland Community College for close to twenty years. He was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Uruguay, and spent his football and college years in Wisconsin and Ohio. In 1980 and 1983 he worked in rural areas as a literacy teacher for the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The following traductions are taken from his Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, released this October, by Shearsman Books, in the UK. The poems originally appeared in The Miseries of Poetry: Twenty Traductions from the Greek, published by Skanky Possum Press, in 2003.

Some comments on the book can be read here & here & here.

Prefatory Note

Alexandra Papaditsas died, under still unsolved circumstances, in her native mountain village of Thylakis, in May, 2002. She was 42. A victim of the rare syndrome Cornuexcretis phalloides, wherethrough a large keratinous horn grows from the head, she spent most of her life sheltered in a small Gnostic monastery outside the port city of Patmos.* When she courageously returned to live in her village in 1998 (courageous, for her horn approximated the size and shape of a billy goat’s), she was shunned, regarded as a witch, and on more than one occasion, stoned by villagers. This was how I met Alexandra, in fact, happening upon her cowered form (this was January, 1999, on my first of three trips to Thylakis) behind a taverna, shortly after a group of teenage boys had assaulted her.

Though it disturbingly reveals the paranoia and mental anguish she suffered in her last days, I have, after deliberation, chosen to publish, without emendations, the introduction she wrote for this gathering. It is clear --frayed and matted to a semantic felt by suffering though they are-- that these words were written with intent that they be published alongside our co-translations. I cannot decipher what meaning is attached to the epigraphs she chose from Virgil, Goethe, Lacan, and Dickinson.

There is not much more, frankly, that I wish to explain. Enough hurt and misunderstanding has taken place. Thus, I offer her introduction here, verbatim, even though its wild claims may put me in a suspicious light, no doubt engendering further rumors about my person, as if there weren’t enough already. And perhaps, who knows, I deserve any opprobrium that may come my way. Let the gods decide.

In addition, I have let her final bracketed insertions within the poems stand, marks of delirium though they may be. Perhaps in some sense these marks are also mine, her pain having some Archaic source in me, though I barely understand the wherefore. Perhaps, indeed, her textual eruptions should be seen (may the reader forgive me) as bony knobs sprouting from the heads of such minotaurish translations as these-- weird but extrinsic appendages of the ravaged body in which they root, pathetic onyxian projections of love’s ultimate excrescence into misprision and sorrow.**

In three thousand years, may her curling horn be found within the layered strata of asteroidal debris.

--Kent Johnson

* The monastery is one of the important sites of the Gnostic Order of Greece (Authentic Synod), a small syncretic sect founded in 1874, which centaurishly fuses traditions of ancient Greek paganism with Eastern Orthodox Christian practices. Percy Bysshe Shelley, depicted in church frescoes in Patmos with human torso and goat legs, is one of the sect’s saints. The Gnostic Order is most influential in the Northern Aegean, particularly on the islands of Chios, Lesbos, and Samothraki, where it counts with modest but long-standing congregations. It was in the Patmos monastery, in collaboration with a “Brother Kallikteros,” that Alexandra labored unsuccessfully for years to crack the code of Linear Script A, an extinct second millennium B.C. language inscribed on scores of clay tablets and fragments that have been excavated around the Mediterranean over the past century. Linear Script B, a later and distantly related archaic Greek dialect, was famously decoded by the epigrapher Michael Ventris in 1952.

**I have also chosen to publish, as an appendix, a letter sent to me by Papaditsas shortly before her death and a letter I received from Father Savvas, Pan-Abbot of the Greek Gnostic Monastery of Patmos, at a later date. I had written him asking for a comment of endorsement to this book. Though his reply was shocking and painful to me, I feel I have no choice but to be forthcoming about it.


But now we are in the cavern. Begin your song.

Be bold, bold without rein, and great men and women will come to your aid.

Well, when I was a young psychiatrist in Paris, when the City was innocent yet, the man-boy Artaud was a patient under my care. It was a difficult case (imagine treating a patient who has written on the walls in his own shit, "People who come out of nowhere to try to put into words any part of what goes on in their minds are pigs."): In the end, electro-shock was the only way in. He was blue and stiff as a kite in a Chinese wind. "He is LIKE A GOD!" screamed Dali in Spanish, standing behind me, his bony fingers clutching my hips, while Michaux, in turn, clutched those of him clutching mine (we had, the three of us, with our respective disciples, only just that week severed resolutely with the execrable Breton) and were inseperable, like peas in a pod... Yes, it was as if he, Artuad, were (oh, his gauze-filled mouth) a kilometer up in the air, attached to a taut and humming string, and we holding fast to him.
--Jacques Lacan

You have so far to go in your poetry, and it’s going to be hard for you to get there, but maybe you can do it if you try very, very hard. Will you try?
--Jim Chapson (spoken to my dear love, Kent Johnson,
in Axel’s Bar, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, ca. 1978)

Hold fast to me, my whore; let us parasail into the paratext.
--Emily Dickinson

I am very happy to at last present these traductions of poems drawn from glorious antiquity. Some of these poems have been translated before, even many times, by scholars whose hands and skulls are luminous with the gold leaf of glory. We (me and the Dead Translator who has ravaged me) have poured now more mystery into them. Beware immediately: Buds of pussy willow will break out under the reader’s arms.

Some are traduced in the first time. This has occurred with astonishing thanks to the Montazah Palace find of 1998, where over four hundred philosophical and poetical papyri were discovered, perhaps, I believe, saved from the Alexandria library as it fell burning by Roman hordes. Of course, it is possible also, as he used to say dreamily, his head prepositioned between my lap, that this may be the anachronistic collection of a noblewoman from the Byzantine.

And therefore this book, fragile as a locust screaming its last, it follows such a love affair of the most sandpapered troubles, like a child whose face has been scraped in and out, rawly, in a meat, against the rock, the rough one laid out for me. A man saved a woman so falsely (he saved me on the thistled hilltop, I was driven there by my head-keras,* the stone throwers kissed their sleepy children goodnight in Thylakis). Then he traitored her, cracked her four-handled cup (cipa mezoe tiriowee weke)** one would say in phrasing from Linear B --though Mr. Ventris’s translation is probably inexact -- left her singular on the macadam, by the housing project (Ghettoi). Yes, the situation is ancient, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

Yet it’s strange, I am ecstatic at his death, my co-translator, the false one, oh the hole of all his buttocks, which gave me heroin just for traduction favors. I loved him and I hate him, bastard, perambulator, like all my doctors in Patmos, the shockers with dead seas in the eyes (I saw them through my gauze and rubber taste). I loved him and he at one season loved me, his Doric locks. I know it, he bathed my body in rose mallow and honey-thyme, his little goat feet. He grabbed my horn and his eyes went white. Something huge passed overhead. Try…

Dionysus!! There was no time: Our bones touched, our Thesauri caught fire by themselves. The priest who married us looked like a giantess with her long beard, his swinging and smoking thing and all the icons, so orthodox around us.*** The sea lapped into our brains (so erotic!), we greased our bodies and crossed it. Oh, Athena [Here the pencil has been pressed so hard and insistently in cross-out that there is a darkly haloed four-inch long by two-inch wide hole. KJ] papyri folded into origami under our thought. “Look, imagine it,” he said, fanning himself with an intricate waterfowl, “No one has the foggy West idea what translation is.”

And then he departed from me and died, he stepped into a Ferrari, I think, on purpose, in Turin. WHY Hipponax? HOW COME, Anacreon? FOR WHAT Attalyda? POR QUE OR POR QUA Alkaios? HEY Alkman? HUH Kentopholous? WHY Tantalos? His death is a snuff-flick of me. Someone, please, call my mother immediately.

[77] 51-93-03****

Even though I know that poetry is much more than Poetry, I know these are Poems we did in another time, when we were happiest before the terrorist brown color covered everything. I am going to go away now. I am going to go away, like antelopes roaming from Uruguay, where he lived as a boy. The annotations about what is gone in the moths are mine, after his death. I am sure he would disagree. But fuck him, still. Fuck him in the mouth with a great velocity. Minor lying god.

--Alexandra Papaditsas (March, 2002)

* “Keras”: The Greek word for horn. KJ

** Phonetic rendering of phrase from Linear Script B. KJ

*** See the Appendix. KJ

**** Her Mother’s phone number in Patmos. I have altered it for obvious reasons. KJ


On the Bastard Boupalous *

Be a coatrack for me, dear, while I clock
Boupalous on his snot-filled nose.

Following this, be a four-legged bench,
as I fuck from the rear his sweet,
the idiot giantess of Rhegium.**

Thank you, Ibykos, handsome whore-boy,
for supporting my revenge.***

* Boupalous was a sculptor of Ephesos for whom Hipponax had
great enmity. Numerous of Hipponax's poems take him as

**Her name was Arete, and it appears that Hipponax later had a
serious amorous relationship with her.

*** A dig at the court poet Ibykos, famous contemporary of Hipponax.


Not once has the eyeless goddess, Wealth,
come to my hut and said: "Hipponax, I'm
giving you thirty four silver minas and that's
just for starters." Not once.


Cliff Swallows Dart

[...] cliff swallows dart, as if [...]
[…] place your leg like that […]
[…] open it as if […]

[Strange how the thighed absence on either side (eaten by moths) pushes out the ancient sex.]

The Miseries of Poetry

In Lydian tone she said, "Come hither, I will plug up
your tight asshole." And she beat my egg sack with a sprig
of lilac as if I were a satyr. I fell backwards, breathing
heavy, and caught there by writhing vines I suffered
torture times two, and then some: A dried rose stem
lashed my man-tits; someone smeared me with cow's
shit, and then my ass started stinking like Hades.
Dung beetles came, sucked there by the fetid
gook, like roan-filled flies. Bugs with their alphabet-eating
sounds: They covered me and shoved inward, burrowed
deep, filing their teeth without pity on my bones.

I hurt so bad, I might as well have had the Pygelian plague.

On a Serpent Painted on the Aft of a Ship

Mimnes, you sick aesthete! Why'd ya paint a long
snake-thing going up the rear end of our trireme?*

We'll be fucked with black luck, become slave-rowers
for pug-nosed Thessalians. We'll get eaten by sea-worms.

Also, our pretty helmsman will grow light-headed from
pressing tight, in fear, the cheeks of his succulent ass.

--Hipponax, ca. 565-520. Banished from Ephesos, he lived much of his life as a wandering beggar in the nearby city of Klazomenai. He is one of the most demotic, bawdy, and satirically cutting poets of the Lyric Age, almost totally preoccupied with personal topics, and his verse exhibits an earthiness whose imagery often flirts with the fantastic and surreal. As evocatively stated by Herondas in the Palatine Anthology, “O stranger, stay clear of the horrible tomb of Hipponax… You might wake the sleeping wasp whose bile would not rest even in Hades, but launches shafts of song in lame measure.” Indeed, his meter is unorthodox by Hellenistic standards-- Hipponax composed largely in "choliambs," or "lame iambics" with dragging final feet.

* A large galley with three banks of oars.

Appendix: Two letters

10/ IX/ 02

Dear Mr. Johnson,

There is little time in this life for us to account for our sins. God is merciful in victory, but implacable in defeat. You must beg forgiveness without delay, commit the penance of the auto-Pharmakos* and the tongue-clamping measure of the Second Encyclical, thus surrendering yourself to Him with all the ounces of your will. Only in this way will you be cleansed of the murder of Alexandra (you know what I’m talking about) who was like a daughter to me, and like a sister to my brother monks.

What you have done is very grave. That you would ask me for a “blurb” to your “translation” compounds your serious sin.

Do you not know it yourself? And now you have stolen what little she had in her suffering life: You have stolen and lied your way into her mind and her poetry and thus into her and our true history. How dare you? Have you no shame? Is Poetry for you nothing but a game of evil to kill others? Meditate on this question until your head is attached to your corpse in a medical college (this is foretold by the Oracle).

Commit the additional repentances (seven times each day)** that I include in the enclosed brochure.

May our compassionate God have mercy upon you.

-Pan-Abbot Father Savvas

* According to the Loeb (“Greek Iambic Poetry,” p. 359), “The -pharmakos- was an ancient form of purification as follows: If a disaster, such as famine or pestilence, or some other blight struck a city due to divine wrath, the ugliest man of all was led to sacrifice in order to purify and cure the city's ills. They set the victim in the appropriate place, put cheese, barley cake and dried figs in his hand, flogged him seven times on his penis with squills, wild fig branches, and other wild plants, and finally burned him on wood from wild trees and scattered his ashes into the sea and winds in order to purify the city of its ills.” The “auto-Pharmakos” urged on me by Pan-Abbot Father Savvas would, I assume, be a modified version of the original.

** The number 7, for the seven holes of the human body, is of theological significance to the Greek Gnostic Order (Authentic Synod).

My Darling:

On March 14, I did find a conceptual praxis whereby morphemes, these so crazy particles that are the source of All Contradiction in the World of Signified Appearances (mat is mat because it is not bat; the Blogger man you spoke of, Kasey Silem Mohammad is Kasey Silem Mohammad because he is not William Carlos Williams), may be accelerated at opposite directions through connecting wormholes in the poem*, and at so much unbelievably fantastic speed, so that when they smash against the other, the names of Samothracean gods become released and scattered in paragrammatic traces, dashes, and spirals across [the] flattened phase-face of the poem... [Long pornographic tirade deleted here. KJ]

Hooded Authors wander through cork-screwed streets there, serenely greeting to other hooded Authors with a bow. The poets follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, “shimmering,” as Althusser said in Lenin and Philosophy, “beneath the world.” They are very dark from having gone out to the true edge…

Thus, all manner of Contradiction goes away. I am quite confident that the poets of Patmos, a thousand years hence, their hardened hair pulled back by Sacred Law to a sharpened point three feet behind their heads, will assume this as second nature.

Now, does this mean that Paradox is vanquished, also? No not at all, nor could it be. For Paradox is a higher manifestation of contradiction, and it clearly transcends contradiction. She is a gowned, beheaded Nike, [and] the feathers of her outspread wings curl round the furthest reaches of every figure of speech, thus gathering all difference back into the center of a Truth that is so near we are always overlooking it in our great anxiety to be “relaxedly classical,” “universally personal,” “casually cosmopolitan,” or “opaquely experimental,” whatever the case, yes? To see her ecstatic, headless form appear in holograph inside the poem puts a new spin on everything.


*Elsewhere, she writes: “These poetic wormholes are everywhere, actually, in any poem, regardless of the poem’s contingent value or prosody, and at any phonemic point through whose tiny trumpet-like hole the whisper of lost, dead language puffs upward.” KJ

© 2008 Kent Johnson