New Directions & Poetry

Queneau’s witty verse

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on March 31, 2009

Raymond Queneau, along with his translator Barbara Wright, is a big favorite in the house. Each time I pick up my copy of Exercises in Style with the whimsical doodles on the cover, I want to giggle…and sometimes, I do. And almost always, I giggle out loud when I read the book. While the book itself is a novel, of sorts (if the book can be categorized in such a prosaic fashion…oops, pun unintended), it does contain some verse recounting the minor spat on the bus. Here are two accounts:


One midday in the bus–the S-line was its ilk–
I saw a little runt, a miserable milk–
Sop, voicing discontent, although around his turban
He had a plaited cord, this fancy-pants suburban.
Now hear what he complained of, this worm-metamorphosis
With disproportionate neck, suffering from halitosis:
–A citizen standing near him who’d come to man’s estate
Was constantly refusing to circumnavigate
His toes, each time a chap got in the bus and rode,
Panting, and late for lunch, towards his chaste abode.
But scandal was there none; this sorry personage
Espied a vacant seat–made thither quick pilgrimage.
As I was going back towards the Latin Quarter
I saw him once again, this youth of milk-and-water.
And heard his foppish friend telling him with dispassion:
“The opening of your coat is not the latest fashion.”


Summer S long neck
plait hat toes abuse retreat
station button friend

It’s sheer genius: to convey the anecdote in such radically different formats, the Alexandrine with its discursive long lines, and the haiku with its brevity manipulated into an almost telegram-like language. Also, kudos to Barbara Wright, the wonderful translator who managed to interpret Queneau’s French with such panache.

Speaking of telegrams…:



Soo Jin


Two Ghazals

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on March 25, 2009

The first time I heard a ghazal was twelve years ago at a small reading at PEN America’s office in New York when they put together an intimate event for an Iranian poet. At that time, I was working at PEN and was madly typing away on my computer while the reading was going on in PEN’s open office space (cubicles to one side of shelving with an open event space on the other), and occasionally hearing a word here and there. At the end, I grabbed the folder with the poems of the poet whose name I have since forgotten…only remembering hearing that she was a poet in exile and then reading the ghazal on a xeroxed page. I have lost that xeroxed ghazal despite searching through many loose pages of xeroxed poems which are always flitting about in my messy place.

Her ghazal was a traditional love poem, but Americans have used many different topics to intervweave with the ghazal form. I was particularly struck by the two radically different ghazals by Forrest Gander and Peter Cole.

Forrest Gander’s ghazal:

Moon and Page Ghazal

Before the neutrinos could interact with matter, they went out.
His voice hardened. The foreplay went out.

Through a pocked sky he dragged her by the rope in her mouth.
She didn’t like it. When he opened the door, her stray went out.

To wound him no deeper than to awaken him, she thought.
Under eaves, the buzzing of mud daubers in their piped clay went out.

That could not be his meaning, on two legs walking backward.
But whoever heard her pray went out.

Only a fly responds to a moving hand in thirty milliseconds.
Biting the hole in her lip as each day went out.

They met at the footsteps of the altar, in a groined chamber of salt.
Forever, she said — flash — smiling as the bridesmaid went out.

And Peter Cole’s:

The Ghazal of What Hurt

Pain froze you, for years — and fear — leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world’s good will —
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you’re sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are —

with all that isn’t actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It’s memory now — so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn’t always. Were you then? And where’s the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you’re driven
away, or on — by forms and forces greater than you are.

Soo Jin

From the archives of New Directions

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on March 6, 2009

One of the neatest things about working in the New Directions office (along with the people, the writers, the translators, the books, the neat old building we are housed in….well, okay, most everything here is pretty nifty) is roaming around the old books and archival material that embody the history of wonderful literature published here.

Back in the days, there was an anthology put out by New Directions with the cover designed by Alvin Lustig, a graphic designer who changed how book covers should be understood physically, not as a literal embodiment of the characters but as an artistic interpretation that matched the content of the book. For the anthology, he designed a bold and simple look.

New Directions Books designed by Alvin Lustig

New Directions Books designed by Alvin Lustig

An elegant design that quickly conveys the essence of the Modern.

Besides seeing our older designs, I like to read the older books as well. One of the finds which most interested me is the Swiss writer Philippe Jaccottet. In 1977, New Directions published a slim selection of Jaccottet’s journals which were translated by the renowned translator Michael Hamburger (I still love Hamburger’s translation of Celan the most although Pierre Joris’ is quite astonishing as well). In March of 1960, Jaccottet wrote the following in his journal:

The peach tree in bloom: an impression of crowds, swarm, humming in the budding which has always struck me as the clearest feature of early spring. Of silent explosion, too. But it is particularly the multiplicity, the multitude that strikes you. And then the first flower open under the rain, like a pink star. Constellation of the peach tree. With the colour of dawn. Peach tree, constellation of dawn.

Observer of the earthly zodiac, of a galaxy arrested in its motion in a garden. It will soon be the acacia’s turn, I haven’t forgotten, I would not have thought it so lavish. Perfumes, whiteness, night of May or June, the shortest of the year.

Soo Jin