Monday, February 1, 2010

Behind the Seen


Parthian Wine Cup

پشت صحنه ی ر ن د ا ن


Dreams — Langston Hughes (Feb. 1, 1902 - 1967)

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

(Photo of Langston on a Harlem street, 1958 - by Rob W. Kelley, LIFE)


JJ by Man Ray, early 20s

Today we celebrate both the birthday of James Joyce (Feb. 2, 1882 - 1941) and the anniversary of the Sylvia Beach publication on Feb. 2, 1922 of his masterpiece Ulysses


I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy.

Ulysses, Ch. 2: Nestor


Come forth Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job.

Ulysses - Ch. 6: Hades

Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Ulysses - Ch. 9: Scylla and Charybdis


I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Ch. 18: Penelope. Last lines.


Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words.

— James Joyce, Ulysses - Ch. 9: Scylla and Charybdis


Today’s great American writer is Gertrude Stein (Feb. 3, 1874 - 1946), who also generously helped many other Modernist writers break into print during her many years in self-imposed exile in Paris…

“America is my country, but Paris is my hometown”.

Photo of a happy Gertrude in 1944, outdoors in France - Carl Mydans, LIFE


Justify Full

Another poet: Austrian Symbolist Georg Trakl, Feb. 3, 1887 - 1914…

“The poems of Georg Trakl have a magnificent silence in them. It is very rare that he himself talks—for the most part he allows the images to speak for him. Most of the images, anyway, are images of silent things.” - Robert Bly

My Heart at Evening

Toward evening you hear the cry of the bats.
Two black horses bound in the pasture,
The red maple rustles,
The walker along the road sees ahead the small tavern.
Nuts and young wine taste delicious,
Delicious: to stagger drunk into the darkening woods.
Village bells, painful to hear, echo through the black
fir branches,
Dew forms on the face.

— Transl. by James Wright & Robert Bly

Photo of Trakl in uniform, 1912


Jacques Prévert (French pronunciation: [ʒak pʀeˈvɛʀ]; 4 February 1900 - 11 April 1977) was a French poet and screenwriter.

Jacques Prévert, French poet and screen writer: Feb. 4, 1900 - 1977. Many of his poems were set to music and became popular chansons…

Remember Barbara

It was raining nonstop in Brest that day
and you walked smiling
artless delighted dripping wet
in the rain

Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest
and I saw you on rue de Siam
You were smiling
and I smiled too

Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember that day all the same
Don’t forget

A man was sheltering under a porch
and he called your name
and you ran toward him in the rain
Dripping water delighted artless
and you threw yourself in his arms

Remember that Barbara
and don’t be angry if I talk to you
I talk to all those I love
even if I’ve seen them only once
I talk to all those who love
even if I don’t know them

Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
that wise happy rain
on your happy face
in that happy town
That rain on the sea
on the arsenal
on the boat from Ouessant

Oh Barbara
What an idiot war
What has happened to you now
In this rain of iron
of fire of steel of blood
and the one who held you tight in his arms
is he dead vanished or maybe still alive

Oh Barbara
It is raining nonstop in Brest
as it rained before
But it’s not the same and everything is ruined
It’s a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
It’s not even a storm any more
of iron of steel of blood
Just simply clouds
that die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
along the water in Brest
and are going to rot far away
far far away from Brest
where there is nothing left.


From Finland, Johan Ludvig Runeberg (Feb. 5, 1804 - 1877), the Swedish-language national poet, whose most famous work is Fänrik Ståls sägner (The Tales of Ensign Stål, Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat in Finnish), written between 1848 and 1860. It is considered the greatest Finnish epic poem outside the native Kalevala tradition and contains tales of the Finnish War of 1808-09 with Russia…

Then there is the matter of the tart named after him…


Time for a decadent Friday:

Beat mentor, experimental writer, junkie, queer - William S. Burroughs, here seen celebrating his 70th birthday in style, was born Feb. 5, 1914 (d. 1997)…

“The Subliminal Kid moved in and took over bars cafes and juke boxes of the world’s cities and installed radio transmitters and microphones in each bar so that the music and the talk in any bar could be heard in all his bars and he had tape recorders in each bar that played and recorded at arbitrary intervals and his agents moved back and forth with portable tape recorders and brought back street sound and talk and music and poured it into his recorder array so he set waves and eddies and tornadoes of sound down all your streets”
– William Burroughs, “Nova Express” (1964)

Corso & Ginsberg interview WSB in 1961 for Journal for the Protection of All Beings, a periodical edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and published by City Lights Bookstore. This is supposedly the first published interview with WSB…

Gregory Corso: What is your department?

William Burroughs: Kunst und Wissenschaft.

Gregory Corso: What do you say about political conflicts?

William Burroughs: Political conflicts are merely surface manifestations. If conflicts arise you may be sure that certain powers intend to keep this conflict under operation since they hope to profit from the situation. To concern yourself with surface political conflicts is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, you are charging the cloth. That is what politics is for, to teach you the cloth. Just as the bullfighter teaches the bull, teaches him to follow, obey the cloth.

Gregory Corso: Who manipulates the cloth?

William Burroughs: Death

Allen Ginsberg: What is death?

William Burroughs: A gimmick. It’s the time-birth-death gimmick. Can’t go on much longer, too many people are wising up. (Source)


Elizabeth Bishop (Feb. 8, 1911 - 1979), Poet Laureate of the USA, 1949 - 1950:

Five Flights Up

Still dark.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once.
Perhaps in his sleep, too, the bird inquires
once or twice, quavering.
Questions—-if that is what they are—-
answered directly, simply,
by day itself.

Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins…
The bird still sits there. Now he seems to yawn.

The little black dog runs in his yard.
His owner’s voice arises, stern,
“You ought to be ashamed!”
What has he done?
He bounces cheerfully up and down;
he rushes in circles in the fallen leaves.

Obviously, he has no sense of shame.
He and the bird know everything is answered,
all taken care of,
no need to ask again.
—-Yesterday brought to today so lightly!
(A yesterday I find almost impossible to lift.)

.Image © Joseph Breitenbach

In celebration of Irish playwright, poet and drinker Brendan Behan’s birthday he and I both toast you in the midnight hour…

Cheers, Brendan (Feb. 9, 1923 - 1964)

“I am a drinker with writing problems.” - B.B.

“One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough.” - B.B.

Photo by Gjon Mili, 1953


Birthday of Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak (Feb. 10, 1890 - 1960) who was the 1958 Nobel Literature Laureate (for Doctor Zhivago). His response to being told of the award: “Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed”


Birthday of German playwright and drama theorist Bertolt Brecht (Feb. 10, 1898 - 1956)…

Brecht spent much of his post-WW II sojourn in the US, testifying before committees:

Bertolt Brecht smoking a cigar during House Un-American Activities hearing, Washington, DC, US - November 1947

Photographer: Martha Holmes, LIFE


EROS - Else Lasker-Schüler (Feb. 11, 1869 - 1945)

Oh, I loved him endlessly!
Laid before his knees
And complained to Eros
Of my longing.
Oh, I loved him crazedly.
Like a summer night
My head sank
Blood black onto his lap
And my arms burned onto him.
Never was my blood so stirred to firebrand,
I surrendered my life to his hands,
And he raised me out of heavy twilight pain.
And all suns sang songs of fire
And my limbs
Were like
Bent lilies.

Toni Morrison, (b. Feb. 18,1931), perhaps the best prose writer among the post-modern wave of African-American authors, Nobel Laureate, and not least incisive critic and essayist…

Morrison’s 1993 Nobel was given to her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Photo of Morrison by Guillermo Arias


Birthday of M. Surréalisme himself: André Breton (Feb. 18, 1896 - 1966)…

André Breton, gloriously solarized: “Surrealism will usher you into death, which is a secret society. It will glove your hand, burying therein the profound M with which the word Memory begins.”


Yoko Ono, Japanese-born avant-garde artist and musician, was born Feb. 18, 1933.

Photo of Yoko as Eve - Eric Antoniou


Audre Lorde - strong poet, black, poor and gay - and proud of it all: (Feb. 18, 1934 - 1992)


Feb. 21 featured the birtday of W.H. Auden (1907 - 1973), great English poet…

Lay your sleeping head, my love
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral;
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie:
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

(Photo of Auden by Eisenstaedt, 1956 - LIFE)


rotic short story writer and diarist, Anaïs Nin: Feb. 21, 1903 - 1977

“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.” —- Winter, 1931-1932

Polaroid by Elsa Dorfman, 70s - as rightly pointed out by billyjane, here


Dada, the Swiss way: Hugo Ball - out of costume! - Feb 22, 1886 - 1927

“How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world’s best lily-milk soap.”

As co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, Hugo Ball led the Dada movement in Zürich, and is one of the people credited with naming the movement “Dada”, by allegedly choosing the word at random from a dictionary.

On this Hugo said in the 1916 Dada Manifesto:

“Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means “hobby horse”. In German it means “good-bye”, “Get off my back”, “Be seeing you sometime”. In Romanian: “Yes, indeed, you are right, that’s it. But of course, yes, definitely, right”. And so forth.

An International word. Just a word, and the word a movement. Very easy to understand. Quite terribly simple. To make of it an artistic tendency must mean that one is anticipating complications. Dada psychology, dada Germany cum indigestion and fog paroxysm, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie, and yourselves, honoured poets, who are always writing with words but never writing the word itself, who are always writing around the actual point. Dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning, dada, you friends and also-poets, esteemed sirs, manufacturers, and evangelists. Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck, dada m’dada, dada m’dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.

How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world’s best lily-milk soap.”


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