Reading: Green Grapes by Yuk-Sa Lee

Yi Yuksa (1904-1944) was a well-known Korean poet and independence activist. As one of Korea’s most famous poets, he and his works symbolize the spirit of the Korean anti-Japanese resistance of the 1930s and 1940s. The pseudonym he used, (이육사) also means 264, the prisoner number assigned to him. His real name was 이원록, Lee WonRok. I encountered his poetry on the glass pane that separates the platform from the subway tracks in Seoul, and decided to read it here.

Green Grapes
My hometown in July
When green grapes are being ripened

The hometown legends told in heavy clusters
And the sky far away comes into grain by grain dreaming

The blue ocean under the sky opens wide its breast
That a white sailboat may come in beautifully drifted

My dear guest whom I long for, even in his weary body
Wearing green outfit will come, he said.

So when I greeted him to share freshly plucked grapes
I’d gladly have my both hands get dripping wet.

My dear child, upon the silver plate on our table
Be sure to set white linen napkins

Let’s read this poem naively. I have no idea upon the circumstances of oppression under which it was written. I read about green grapes, used to make sweet wine in Korea and delicious real wine in Europe. I see the dreamy sky and the blue ocean opening its wide breast and we are all sky children nurtured by the wideness of our thought.

The guest with the green outfit must be a soldier freeing Korea from the commies. Let’s share grapes with him! It is a very special occassion, so the silver plate must be with dressed with white linen. Blue, white and green are the colors in this poem. I think of the flag of Sierra Leone, a country that was once war-torn but is doing relatively well now.

Here is the Korean original:


– 이육사

내 고장 칠월은
청포도가 익어 가는 시절.

이 마을 전설이 주저리주저리 열리고
먼 데 하늘이 꿈꾸며 알알이 들어와 박혀,

하늘 밑 푸른 바다가 가슴을 열고
흰 돛 단 배가 곱게 밀려서 오면,

내가 바라는 손님은 고달픈 몸으로
청포(靑袍)를 입고 찾아온다고 했으니,

내 그를 맞아 이 포도를 따 먹으면
두 손은 함뿍 적셔도 좋으련,

아이야, 우리 식탁엔 은쟁반에
하이얀 모시 수건을 마련해 두렴.

Reading: Green Grapes by Yuk-Sa Lee was originally published on Meandering home


Reading: So Little Depends by Miguel-Manso

Miguel Manso (b. 1979) is a Portuguese poet born in Santarém. He has written eight books of poetry. I read a verse with a title that appealed to me, ‘so little depends’:

The original is on the website of Poetry International.

So Little Depends
you prefer the corner, the hidden place
the foliage, the shadow, the room, this
sack of wheat: textual gold
spread out on the old secretaire of the real

outside the blaze of the wood
the quick glazing of the fields
here inside, less leeway – another

panorama: simply the presence
uninhabited by a person, mystery without
attribute or function

always the undoing of a heart
the industrial cultivation of figures
and leftover sadness and days for the body that writes
in the calaboose of a vast morning

radiant with drops of honey
as the cats lick Saturday
and sitting, like a gold frog, you let yourself add to the world
(but why) another poem

I like this kind of imaginative poetry. The metaphors are wonderful and so is the meta-metaphor of the ‘secretary of the real’ I think of the Lacanian Real here). I try to understand the meaning of the dichotomy outside-inside. In the Portuguese original, ‘leeway’ is ‘caminho’, there is less road here inside. The simple presence is unambiguous. It is a writer’s desk and his struggle with emotion is beautifully rendered here, I quote the original to give some sense of the sound of the Portuguese:

sempre a desfeita de um coração
o cultivo intensivo das figuras
e sobram tristeza e dias ao corpo que escreve
no calabouço de uma manhã muito larga

I have my own writer’s dungeon that I will call calaboose from now on. Adding another poem to the world, never sure about why we do this. But this is how the poetic survives: By gestures of poets who imagine they are gold frogs and rewrite everything in a next poem.

Reading: So Little Depends by Miguel-Manso was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Daughter by Carmen Giménez Smith

Carmen Giménez Smith (b. 1971) is a new York poet who teaches in New Mexico. I read a poem from her 2013 book ‘Milk and filth’:

The Daughter

We said she was a negative image of me because of her lightness.
She’s light and also passage, the glory in my cortex.
Daughter, where did you get all that goddess?
Her eyes are Neruda’s two dark pools at twilight.
Sometimes she’s a stranger in my home because I hadn’t imagined her.
Who will her daughter be?
She and I are the gradual ebb of my mother’s darkness.
I unfurl the ribbon of her life, and it’s a smooth long hallway, doors flung open.
Her surface is a deflection is why.
Harm on her, harm on us all.
Inside her, my grit and timbre, my reckless.
The first lines are mysterious, I like it. We are talking about generations of women, alternating dark and less dark and light. They all see themselves in each other, the women are distorting mirrors to each other who sometimes feel like strangers because they challenge the imagination.
Harm on her, harm on us all. There is a basic solidarity between the generations of women, because the fundamental attunement to the world (grit, timbre, reckless) survives in every new generation.

Reading: The Daughter by Carmen Giménez Smith was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: On Seeing A Watermelon by Monika Kumar

Monka Kumar (b. 1977) is a Hindi poet. Her interests include the folklore and folk culture of Punjab, contemporary literary theory and world poetry. She also writes a PhD thesis on the work of François Lyotard. I read a fruity love poem in the translation by Sampurna Chattarji:

On Seeing A Watermelon
Seeing a watermelon was my introduction to vastness.

I can only approximate
how much I love you:

by the handful,
as much as the sea
or not at all.

Approximations fail me
when I look at a watermelon.
How red it will be
how fleshy
how its meditative eyes would be arrayed inside.

You were stubborn in your insistence:
the earth is round as an orange.
You refused to accept
it could also be like a watermelon.

I lied to you
when I said I can tell you, approximately,
how much I love you.

All estimations are a failure of my language.
I need a few signs of exclamation
mad transports
that will gently translate my failures.

Approximations have to do with measurable quantity: how love I love you was measured (handful, sea-much, not at all). The sublime vastness however can’t be approximated. The poet talks about qualities like redness and fleshyness and the meditative eyes that are the little seeds of the watermelon.

Her lover doesn’t get it. He is looking for a fruity approximation of pure roundness instead of the more imaginative watermelon.

Of course her approximation of how much she loves him was a lie. She told him so only to please him. She didn’t want to tell him there is failure in everything she says. She needs ‘mad transports’ to translate her failures. Translate them into what and why? Perhaps her lover will learn to understand them as gestures, never mind their lack of accuracy. The fact that she is approximating her love for him is enough, as long as her failures are translated into gestures of ‘pure’ love without qualification.

Reading: On Seeing A Watermelon by Monika Kumar was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Wreck by Don Paterson

Don Paterson (b. 1963) is a Scottish poet from Dundee, where he still lives and plays jazz guitar in a band. He has taught poetry and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. His poetry unique on two T.S. Eliot Prizes and the list of awards goes on. I read a remarkable ode to a love affair that has died:

The Wreck
But what lovers we were, what lovers,
even when it was all over—
the bull-black, deadweight wines that we swung
towards each other rang and rang
like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port
and watched our sober unreal life
unmoor, a continent of grief;
the candlelight strange on our faces
like the tiny silent blazes
and coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs
into the night for the night’s work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,
gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down
to mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back
to back, and made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.
This poem is accessible, right? I am captivated by the opening scene of the former couple toasting at their final rendezvous, during which they get drunk and reminisce about their bygone love affair. They are imagining – together – their love as a boat they see dead in the water and sinking. And it all rhymes to brilliantly, Audenesquely. Port – unmoored, swung – slung, blazes – coruscations (not: sparks because rhythm over rhyme).
After the candlelight is out they go do the night’s work in the belly of the wooden shipwreck. They strap each other on like aqualungs as they go down, and back to back they rise to the surface again, breathless. Kitsch? No, the enjambment between back / to back prevents that. The “mined beach of the dawn” is perhaps a little too round for an ending, I would have preferred something a little more tart.

Reading: The Wreck by Don Paterson was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: First Memory by Louise Gluck

Louise Glück (b. 1943) is an American poet born in New York. Numerous awards, appointed Poet Laureate in 2003. Her poetry is neither confessional nor intellectual and considered among the purest writing in English poetry today. Her subject matter is often desolate and depressing, yet poetically brilliant. I read a short little piece of wisdom that made me go ‘hell yeah’ today:

First Memory
Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was–
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

What is it with all these fathers? Why is their voice so important? What does it mean, the Voice of the Father in our times when the ‘big Father’ in the sky has fewer takers every day? She writes ‘revenge’, this is not the desire to ‘prove’ yourself to the father that is so effective in manufacturing an obeying populas, as Hollywood knows.

Revenge it is, but out of self-loathing, not out of hatred for someone else. I subscribe to this psychological insight, it is something we all have to come to terms with, I mean all of us who had an authoritarian character, a ‘head of the household’ as a father who may or may not have ‘done things’.

It meant I loved. Wooha! This poem is extreme ellipsis, so it fits for everybody. Some reader might see the father beating her, an other simply a man who was always absent. All readers are supposed to be confronted with their own love. I like that.

Reading: First Memory by Louise Gluck was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Lost Worlds by Giorgos Seferis

Giorgos Seferis (1900 – 1971) was one of the most famous Greek poets of the twentieth century, born near Smyrna (Izmir). He died sadly before the end of the military dictatorship in his country. His work was greatly inspired by Yeats, Kavafis, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He won the 1963 Nobel Prize. I read ‘Lost worlds’ :

Lost Worlds

How can you gather together
the thousand fragments
of each person?
What’s wrong with the rudder?
The boat inscribes circles
and there’s not a single gull.
The world sinks:
hang on, it’ll leave you
alone in the sun.
You write:
the ink grew less,
the sea increases.
The body that hoped to flower like a branch,
to bear fruit, to become like a flute in the frost —
imagination has thrust it into a noisy bee-hive
so that musical time can come and torture it.

Great abstract ideas – I like them, but they are a nuisance to translate. And to comment. As you know, I don’t study the theoretical underpinnings, I don’t like to know a poet’s soul better than he does. We start here with fragmentary persons. I see a boat sailing in circles because of a broken rudder, somewhere far in the sea where there are no gulls. It is cought in a vortex, the world sinks. If we don’t sink with it, we end up alone, forgotten. That is the game here: The remembering ink grew less (past tense) while the forgetting sea increases (present time).

The last four lines read like Kavafis. A flowering body, bearing fruit, imaging to be a flute (do we even need a footnote about homoeroticism?) but that imagination is too painful, musical time can come and torture it. This was the thought of the protagonist in my upcoming novel. He couldn’t bear musical time., the movement that makes him aware that forgetting outcompetes remembering.

Reading: Lost Worlds by Giorgos Seferis was originally published on Meandering home