New Directions & Poetry

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

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For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on February 25, 2009

Since last week, I’ve been meaning to post a bit from Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut. I first received this manuscript from the editor last May, right before BEA. Along with a galley and another manuscript, I was doing a very rushed catch-up reading on my flight (I was living in San Francisco then…and BEA was in LA that year, not exactly the flight to get much reading done) to prepare myself for several days of talking with booksellers. In that hurried skimming read, I saw so much joyful language in Hiraide’s poetry that I immediately returned to it after the intense BEA time. My more leisurely reading confirmed what can only be described as one of the most unusual and spectacular long poems I have read in a long time.

Most recently, Three Percent recognized the book and the translation by awarding it with their Translation Award for Poetry at Melville House award ceremonies.

I wish I was articulate enough to describe this book with justice…but all I often end up doing is rambling about nature, subway trains, urban life, walnuts, beetles…the translator, Sawako Nakayasu, does a much better job. She writes in her foreword:

“Hiraide composed much of FFSW while he rode the train for work each day, but here the train-to-person (container-to-content) relationship is reversed: `Just then, I noticed a rusty blue rail bursting out of my chest…’ (#59). The contrapuntal relationships between entry and exit, internal and external, nature and the city, are further manifested in the radiantly glowing subway, or a tree pushing its way into its hometown tide. Epic struggles of love and war are cast at walnut-scale: acts of violence are enacted upon the hard shell of a snail, a rotting plum, the poetic line as it is shattered into fragments. Hiraide, ever the baseball fiend, thus loads up the poetic bases — while the ball comes wafting in like a corpse candle, and a `hit’ occurs as a moment of eye contact between strangers. One waits, alert, in the outfields or in an emergency reservoir of water: `And so it was that the young minnow leaps, quick have a fire!’ (#92) In linked fragments that contort the desperate pinings of a love poem, a rescue fantasy, a desired state of emergency, this moment known as the present is amplified — or, perhaps, exploded.”

Now that you have read about this poem, I hope you will go on to read the excerpt:

1.
The radiant subway. The wall that clears up endless. A thundering prayer of steel that fastens together the days, a brush of cloud hanging upon it, O beginning, it is there — your nest.

2.
The sound of the bursting flesh of fruit scatters between your ears. The forefront of this spray beckons to those outside of sorrow.

3.
Things that rain, and things that grow. They are all that hold my interest. (Until the things that rain have grown, and the things that grow have poured.) Things that grow, and things that rain. They are all that I desire. (Until the things that grow cease to grow, and the things that rain no longer rain a single drop.)

4.
Unaware of the arc lamp above, she reads intently one day — “The one who loves without hope is the only one who knows that person.”

5.
Along the coast lined with warehouses, you were born in a pool of light. With the almond eyes you inherited from the traits. Tidal hair connecting the islands. Your burning cheeks. Soft legs that trip up at times. Though forced to fight in one place after another, because you harbor a resistance to death inside the skill with which you keep your voice down, your age slowly comes to rest upon the backsides of days.

6.
In the wind-whirled grass, blend yourself in with the soft tear of the decayed rice paper or freshly unearthed beak. Break your bones, open your skin, and strive to get the inerasable grease, entangled and rippling up — to finally rise from the lips, toward the grass-tips, to bleed apart in scatters.

I am particularly fond of #3, how Hiraide takes a simple statement and reworks it from multiple viewpoints.

The book contains 111 of these prose stanzas which weave in and out through themes, ideas, and objects. One of the distinguishing factors of post-Romantic poetry is coming to terms with the city, describing the technology and societal shifts, negotiating our moves from country villages to complicated cities which shape different relationships with nature and other human beings. For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut embraces this poetic challenge joyfully and exuberantly.

–Soo Jin

Allen Grossman

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on February 18, 2009

Just yesterday we heard that Allen Grossman would be honored with the Bollingen Prize. In talking about Grossman, one of the editors pointed out her favorite Grossman poem to me:

City of David

Jerusalem is a grave of poets. Name
two who are buried there:
the poet Dennis Silk is buried there.
He lived with a dressmaker’s dummy,
in a cave, on the Hill of Evil
Counsel due south of Zion Mount.
She bore him children
after her kind. –In any case, whatever
she gave birth to did not live.
Famous Amichai, also a poet,
is buried there. From his apartment on
the eastern slope you can see
a gate of the City, called David’s Gate.
In ’48, on a beach at Tel Aviv,
the poet Amichai held a dying soldier
in his arms. The soldier whispered–:
“Shelley.” And then he died.
Poets built Jerusalem. Therefore,
poets have a duty to destroy
Jerusalem. If I forget thee,
the world will be better off.
The tree a cat can get up into,
a cat can get down from by itself.

(Valent)lines

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on February 13, 2009

Recently, Peter Cole and Forrest Gander gave a reading at McNally Jackson.  I was particularly struck by how Cole’s poetry was infused with the more ornate language of medieval Hebrew which Cole translates into fluid and musical English.  For Valentine’s Day, I can’t think of a better love poem, one that considers love in a thoughtful manner of the everday, than this poem:

(Valent)lines for A.

What law and power has blessed me so

that in this provocation of flesh

I have been wedded to gentleness?

**

Delicacy of an intricate

mesh of our thought and meals and talking

has brought me to this exaltation

of syllables and a speechlessness–

to December dusk, and desk, and skin

in the amber of our listening.

**

Dawn again pink with munificence;

heart again blurred by its ignorance;

toward you in that equation I turn–

and you, in turn, invovle our being

spun like wool from which soul is weaving

a use for that useless opulence.

**

Doing and making–the end served by

what it is we make, and what we do,

is what has made me: making and you.