Poems, Imitations & Translations


Case Studies (7):



The more days move off into distance
scattering themselves, the more they return
to hearts of the poets. …

Memini: I remember; memento: “Object serving as reminder or warning, or kept as memorial of person or event” (Concise Oxford Dictionary); meminens: mindful. I’ve never been especially anxious to fry my brain with booze or drugs. Not because I think it’s naughty, let alone unreasonable – just because memory is what I am.

Buchenwald is there
that mild-mannered beech wood
with its accursed ovens: Stalingrad
and Minsk with its marshes and rotten snow. …

“Kids lose everything unless there’s someone there to look out for them,” says River Phoenix in Stand by Me. Part of our job is just that: not to forget, to insist on being the skeleton at the feast, stalking alone through the Masque of the Red Death.

Poets do not forget. Oh hordes of the lowly,
the conquered, those forgiven out of pity!
All things may pass, but the dead do not
sell themselves. …

Dignity is not the same thing as pomposity. “Shame on you … Shame,” says Howard towards the end of Raymond Carver’s story “A Small, Good Thing.” I cried when I first read that. It was his second try at it. The first, “The Bath,” ended in a far more deadpan way. It took him a long time to achieve that intensity.[1]

I sing
the people, also their grief
muffled by sound of the sea, the mothers’
crystal-clear mourning: I sing the life of my country.

– Salvatore Quasimodo, “Il mio paese è l’Italia
trans. Kendrick Smithyman

Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? Even if no-one seems to be listening most of the time. Even if they are, but in a really crass way. Just the chance of it makes the game worth the candle. Doesn’t it?

1. Interestingly, since I first wrote this in 2001, I've discovered that this isn't the case. "The Bath" is in fact a drastically reduced version of "A Small, Good Thing" constructed by Gordon Lish, Raymond Carver's long-time friend and editor, during the production process of his second collection What We talk About When We Talk About Love (1981). The information now available in the Library of America edition of Carver's Collected Stories, edited by William L. Stull & Maureen P. Carroll (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2009), makes it apparent just how much Carver resented and resisted this curtailment of his original story.

[Raymond Carver: Collected Stories (2009)]

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