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Friday, 16 September 2011

Hats Off to Michael Schmidt

 Been reading the new PNR this week, with my review of the recent Penguin translation of Leopardi's Canti in it. I was bowled over in the summer to receive an email from its American translator Jonathan Galassi ( to whom Michael Schmidt had shown my submission ), thanking me for the review and even promising to send me some books. Little did I know, when I'd gauchely wrote in the review that I hadn't heard of JG but that (based on the acknowledgments page in the Leopardi volume eg. Muldoon, Bidart, Gluck, CK Williams) he keeps some illustrious poetic company, Galassi is actually the president of the prestigious American publishing house Farrar Strauss and Giroux, as well as being a renowned poet in his own right. That'll teach me not to research authors I'm writing reviews of...Anyway he very kindly sent me a collection of his Montale translations, which are absolutely stunning and I hope to do a post about Montale on here soon.
   Also this week PN Review held a party for their recent 200th edition, which I had an invite for but was unable to attend, being in sleep-deprived hoochy-coochy babyfather mode rather than rapier-witted poete maudit (or even someone able to string a coherent sentence together.) Hats off to Michael Schmidt, though, for 200 issues of by far the best-written, best-edited, most consistently engaging, arresting and provoking poetry journal we have and here's to at least 200 more...

Friday, 9 September 2011

For a Baby Son

                                                                   
A poem today for our new baby, a second son born on Tuesday evening. In the blissed-out non-routined strangeness of these first days back at home (thank goodness for Paternity Leave) and while mother and baby sleep I've been flicking through the old Faber anthology The Naked Astronaut: Poems on Births and Birthdays.
   So few of the poems capture anything of the unparalleled intensity and rawness of childbirth; most are by male poets elaborating their own thoughts and feelings after the event - understandable, of course, since the experience is so overwhelming,although the degree to which major figures like Yeats and Lowell seem wrapped up in themselves and their own poetic processes is dismaying.There is rarely much focus on what the woman has gone through or indeed the infant; indeed there are only a few pieces by female poets, which in an anthology about births seems ridiculous.
  I've chosen a passage from Sylvia Plath's beautiful stark 'Three Women' - our baby was a little bluish and white with vernix when he emerged, giving him a slightly alien appearance, so it seems to fit:

"Who is he ,this blue, furious boy,
Shiny and strange, as if he had hurtled from a star?
He is looking so angrily!
He flew into the room, a shriek at his heel.
The blue colour pales. He is human after all.
The red lotus opens in its bowl of blood;
They are stitiching me up with silk, as if I were a material.
What did my fingers do before they held him?
What did my heart do, with its love?
I have never seen a thing so clear.
His lids are like the lilac-flower
And soft as a moth, his breath.
I shall not let him go.
There is no guile or warp in him. May he keep so."