Meanderings & mawqifs of poetry, poetics, translations y mas. Travelogue too.

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Going Traditional Again on This Day…

November 26th, 2015 · Whatever

A Nomadics blog & Straight Up tradition (well, must be the third or fourth or fifth repeat — when does ‘tradition’ begin?) continues. William S. Burroughs’s words of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day paired with two collages by Norman O. Mustill. Look and listen. It’s delish . . .

Collages © 1967 by Norman O. Mustill, excerpted from ‘Flypaper’ [Beach Books, San Francisco, 1967]

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons,
destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts —

thanks for a Continent to despoil
and poison —

thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and
danger —

thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot —

thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes —

thanks for the AMERICAN DREAM
to vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through —

thanks for the KKK,
for nigger-killin’ lawmen,
feelin’ their notches,
for decent church-goin’ women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces —

thanks for “Kill a Queer for
Christ” stickers —

thanks for laboratory AIDS —

thanks for Prohibition and the
War against Drugs —

thanks for a country where
nobody’s allowed to mind his
own business —

thanks for a nation of finks — yes,

thanks for all the
memories … all right let’s see
your arms …
you always were a headache and
you always were a bore —

thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.

Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986
© 1986 by William S. Burroughs

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Reality Street Editions 2016: Fisher & Griffiths: A Must!

November 25th, 2015 · Book Launch, Books, Poetry


In 2016 Reality Street will be publishing just two (big) titles, wrapping up two (big) projects.

Allen Fisher‘s Gravity as a consequence of shape was a large and complex poetic project begun in 1982 and completed about two decades later. Most of it has been published in one form or another – but now Reality Street will be bringing together the complete text in one volume (much as we did with Allen’s 1970s project, Place). This 500+pp book will be priced at around £18 (+p&p) when published.

We have been bringing out the Collected Poems of the late Bill Griffiths in two volumes so far. The third volume, Collected Poems Vol 3 (1992-96),  will come out next year, spanning an extremely productive five years in Bill’s life following his move to the North East. This is expected to be the final volume in the series – although it doesn’t exhaust Bill’s oeuvre, his poetry from then until his death in 2007 is well represented in current editions. Again, this is expected to be a 500+pp (approx) book costing £18.

So this is advance notice that you can subscribe as a Supporter to either or both books. Until 31 December 2015 there is a special rate of £15 for either book or £29 for the two. (After the end of this year, the rate will increase to £18/£36 respectively.)

Just head on to the Supporter page of the Reality Street website for more information and to join the list of subscribers now!

Best wishes,

Ken Edwards

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November 21st, 2015 · Criticism, Essays, Translation, Uncategorized

yokofrom: The White Review: A fascinating reflection on Celan and translation from Yōko Tawada, a Japanese writer currently living in Berlin, Germany who writes in both Japanese and German. I missed the piece when it first cam out in 2013, but very happy to have come across it now. Opening paras below, then click on “here.”

THERE ARE SOME WHO CLAIM THAT ‘GOOD’ LITERATURE IS ACTUALLY untranslatable.  Before I could read German, I found this thought comforting because I was completely unable to appreciate German literature, particularly the literature of the postwar period.  I thought I should just learn German and read these works in the original and then my problem with German literature would evaporate of its own accord.

There were exceptions, though, such as the poems of Paul Celan, which I found utterly fascinating even in Japanese translation.  From time to time it occurred to me to wonder whether his poems might not be lacking in quality since they were translatable.  When I ask about a work’s ‘translatability,’ I don’t mean whether a perfect copy of a poem can exist in a foreign language, but whether its translation can itself be a work of literature.  Besides, it would be insufficient if I were to say that Celan’s poems were translatable.  Rather, I had the feeling that they were peering into Japanese.

After I had learned to read German literature in the original, I realised that my impression hadn’t been illusory. I was occupied even more than before by the question of why Celan’s poems were able to reach another world that lay outside the German language. There must be a chasm between languages into which all words tumble.

[ctd. here]

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Interview with Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris

November 20th, 2015 · Intellectuals, Interview, Poetics, Poetry, Translation

rothenberg-4f0c4b7c9adc5_360x225-160x160joris2-160x160from: Poetry Project Newsletter:

In the exploration of borders and boundaries of poetry, I can think of no better guides than Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris. They both graciously agreed to participate in a discussion of what’s happening in poetry at the moment– poetry as outsidered, what identity can mean, where and why boundaries are erected and dismantled.

Following are excerpts from an email exchange I had with Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris that we hope will serve to inspire further conversations. –Betsy Fagin, Poetry Project Newsletter Editor.

BF: I originally approached you both in hopes of generating a discussion around international poetry, poetics and poetry communities and I just have a few symbols of what’s happening at the moment that keep coming to mind: wall, border/boundary, refuge. One thing I’m curious about and would like to examine is how the current poetry scene here in the U.S. interacts with or is immune/oblivious to this political moment: border walls (U.S., Gaza Strip, India/Pakistan, Ireland, Cyprus, N./S. Korea, E.U. etc.), efforts to exclude or accept refugees (Syria) and migrants, newly opened boundaries (Cuba).

Maybe we can start off by discussing what these images can mean or represent in relation to the contemporary avant-garde poetry scenes we know and love. What are the borders around poetry right now? Where is refuge? How are boundaries erected and crossed? How seriously do we defend our borders and why? I’m asking what sound like political questions, and they are, but I feel like related, relevant patterns and answers can be reflected in the microcosms of our poetry worlds.

JR: For myself the issue of an international or global poetry came alive in the late 1950s and still more so in the 1960s, while the great event for many of us as poets was the emergence of the “new American poetry,” in which I also played an active if still subsidiary part. For the American side of it we experienced the emergence and assertion of a poetry that drew strength from the culture and language in which we shared most immediately, an American moment that seemed sometimes to obliterate the traces of other contemporary languages and cultures. Being “in the American grain,” as Williams had it, was good enough as far as it went, but for me there was always the wider world, and my roots, like Williams’ for that matter, went back to other places, other times. The disparity, if that’s what it was, was brought home to me, in a conversation with Donald Allen, shortly after his big anthology appeared. What I carried away from that was Allen’s telling me that I was, in contrast to the poets in his book, part of an “international school” of poetry. That description stung at first but I later grew to love it.

PJ: In a strangely or not so strangely inverse movement, I saw myself ab initio as an “international poet” in continuous exile & nowhere at home given that I chose to write in my fourth language & moved from Europe to the US in 1967 (though I did keep on moving, as the song says…). German, French & francophone poetries were there from the start. If in the late sixties I had one aspiration, it was to become an… American poet, and so I intensely studied and tried to imitate Ginsberg & Williams & Olson to enter that “American grain.” Doesn’t seem to have worked out exactly that way — I cannot escape my “native internationalism,” if I’m permitted a punning oxymoron.

I’m in Europe right now, & your mention of “walls” and “borders” immediately resounds: If the major political & cultural effort for the 1/2 century after WW2 was to break down walls & create an open European space, this seems to in great danger right now. The wall between the two Germany’s may have come down in ’89, but meanwhile some 50 new walls have been built: hundreds of miles of them, from the Spanish “possessions” in North Africa to Denmark! Walls & borders are right now an area of investigation for geographers, philosophers, political scientists, economists — & maybe it is time for poets to make thinking about these actual walls reemerge at a time when we also believe ourselves to live & work in the real? fantasy? world of global accessibility via internet & social media.

In the US unhappily it feels right now as if much thinking, or rather, much bickering that passes for thinking, has to do more with identity squabbles, personal, ego-identities using perceived and often imagined walls as fake hindrances to vault over, while neglecting to analyze or engage with actual walls, borders, barriers at the level of a, or of many “we’s,” as they affect communities world-wide. And world-wide has to be the focus; “national(istic)” focus is of little help — either in matters of politics or of culture, including poetry.


[continued here.]

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Hind Meddeb & Federica Matta: “Face à l’horreur”

November 19th, 2015 · Arab Culture, Islamic Fundamentalists, Mashreq, Middle East, Uncategorized

Yesterday I received a letter — an outcry, really, and a cogent reflection on the Paris massacres — from Hind Meddeb, the daughter of Abdelwahab Meddeb, written in collaboration with the painter Federica Matta who also contributed the drawing. Moved by her outcry, I asked her for permission to reprint it here on Nomadics, first in French, and later, when I’ll have a moment in English translation.


Face à l’horreur

La mort n’a jamais été aussi proche de nous. L’horreur des conflits qui déchirent le Moyen Orient et plus particulièrement l’Irak depuis l’invasion américaine en 2003 et la Syrie de la révolte du peuple contre son dictateur en 2011 s’est invitée jusque dans nos rues. Les attentats qui assassinent quotidiennement des civils à Bagdad, Alep, Bassorah, Kobane, Beyrouth, Sanaa, Abuja, Nairobi ne pourront plus nous laisser indifférents.

Compassion et responsabilité. Ces mots me hantent depuis ce vendredi funeste. En solidarité avec les peuples d’Irak et de Syrie qui sont en première ligne de cette guerre sans nom. Les terroristes veulent semer la haine et la discorde dans nos sociétés. Mais ils n’y parviendront pas.  Parmi les rescapés et les témoins de l’horreur, c’est la compassion et la solidarité qui l’emportent. La colère aussi. Mais tout sauf la haine de l’autre.

Je suis à New York avec mon amie peintre Federica Matta. Notre réflexion commune engendre ce texte et ce dessin que je partage avec vous.

Je pense à mon ami Raphaël Lauro ancien étudiant de mon père Abdelwahab Meddeb qui a été témoin de l’horreur ce vendredi 13 novembre alors qu’il dînait avec des amis dans un restaurant situé à quelques mètres du Petit Cambodge et du Carillon. Voir la mort en face, les balles qui tuent au hasard, l’impossibilité de donner du sens à ce qui nous arrive. En échangeant avec Raphaël qui s’est retrouvé pendant quelques minutes en présence de la bête immonde, j’ai pensé à mon père Abdelwahab qui exprimait quotidiennement sa souffrance et sa colère impuissante face à la destruction de l’Irak, de la Syrie, et désormais du Yemen, ces pays qui ont été le berceau de la civilisation. Sur son lit d’hôpital, il me disait : le cancer qui me ronge est à l’image du cancer qui ronge le Moyen Orient. Un cancer contre lequel il s’est battu toute sa vie, prêchant dans le désert quand il y a plus de quinze ans, il interpellait déjà nos politiques, les invitant à prendre leurs responsabilités, à identifier l’ennemi, à ne pas le laisser proliférer, à ne pas faire alliance avec les islamistes, où qu’ils soient. Je ne comprends pas que ses textes ne soient pas étudiés dans nos écoles, repris par nos politiques, par nos journalistes. Je ne comprends pas que les livres de Tariq Ramadan soient en pile dans nos librairies.

Alors à mon tour, j’interpelle notre président et ses alliés en Europe et aux Etats-Unis : quand comprendrez vous que vos dispositions sécuritaires ne suffiront jamais à endiguer la prolifération jihadiste qui infeste le monde ? Quand ferons nous enfin tomber les masques ? Quand admettrons-nous qu’il ne suffit pas de bombarder les positions d’ISIS, qu’il faut mener une politique de long terme et s’attaquer à la racine du mal : Erdogan qui soutient ISIS contre la rébellion turque, le roi Abdallah qui arme les jihadistes pour conserver la prédominance sunnite dans la région,  dans sa guerre contre Assad et le gouvernement chiite irakien, eux-mêmes soutenus par la Russie, l’Iran et le Hezbollah. Derrière les attentats qui assassinent chaque jour des civils, il y a des intérêts qui nous dépassent auxquels nos hommes politiques n’ont jamais voulu s’attaquer. Et pourtant il va falloir identifier et affronter nos ennemis, bien au-delà des rangs d’ISIS. L’organisation bénéficie de tout un réseau de soutien qui dépasse la simple ramification terroriste. Arrêtons de nous indigner devant l’horreur jihadiste, menons une politique globale, venons en aide à ceux qui sur le terrain combattent les terroristes. Pourquoi ne pas avoir apporté notre soutien aux Syriens qui manifestaient pacifiquement pour demander la fin de la dictature? Notre désengagement pour soutenir l’émergence de la démocratie syrienne en 2011 est aussi lourd de conséquences que l’intervention américaine en Irak en 2003. Pourquoi les Américains n’ont-ils pas soutenu les opposants à Saddam Hussein lorsqu’ils se révoltèrent dans le sud du pays au début des années 90?

L’Occident a toujours préféré adouber les dictatures en place plutôt que de soutenir des citoyens ordinaires militants pour la démocratie. Sans doute par paresse, peut être aussi par cynisme (les Africains, les Arabes ne seraient pas faits pour la démocratie, on a souvent entendu ce genre d’ineptie dans nos ambassades). Partout au Moyen-Orient, les peuples se retrouvent coincés entre deux alternatives : la dictature ou l’islamisme. Mais ils sont de plus en plus nombreux à vouloir autre chose. Les Egyptiens qui manifestaient par millions contre les frères musulmans et leur président Mohammed Morsi en 2013 ne s’étaient pas mobilisés pour ramener la dictature militaire au pouvoir. Ils ont été pris au piège et leur mobilisation récupérée par le général Sissi mais cela n’enlève en rien leur rejet du programme islamiste.

L’Europe et l’Amérique parlent au nom de la démocratie et de la liberté, mais depuis des décennies, le discours de nos politiques est en décalage total avec la réalité sur le terrain. Au Moyen-Orient, ce sont toujours les intérêts économiques qui l’emportent. Deux poids, deux mesures, sur le conflit israélo-palestinien. Irresponsabilité criminelle des Américains après l’invasion irakienne en 2003, laissant le chaos s’installer, laissant les lieux symboliques de la culture et de la civilisation irakienne se faire piller.

Quand comprendrons-nous qu’il faut faire le travail de déconstruction de la propagande jihadiste, investir les réseaux sociaux, les télévisions satellitaires et soutenir tous ceux qui font ce travail dans l’ombre depuis des décennies mais qui ne sont relayés ni par nos médias, ni par nos politiques ? Quand comprendrons-nous qu’il faut reconnaître le legs de la civilisation islamique à notre histoire européenne, célébrer nos tirailleurs sénégalais, nos anciens combattants algériens et accepter que les enfants de la colonisation ont toute leur place en France ? Tant que nous ne prendrons pas au sérieux la blessure identitaire qui gangrène le cœur de nombreux jeunes d’origine arabe ou musulmane, tant que nous ne comprendrons l’importance de la reconnaissance symbolique de l’Autre dans notre société qui se dit judéo-chrétienne, nous n’avancerons pas. Il n’y a que la reconnaissance de l’autre en tant que sujet qui peut mettre fin au ressentiment et faire reculer le nombre de candidats au jihad. 

Il ne suffit pas de condamner les attentats jihadistes. Nous devons nous remettre en question. Repenser l’identité française. Obliger nos politiques à reconnaître leur responsabilité. Ne pas se contenter une fois de plus de mesures sécuritaires. Accepter que le chemin est long, qu’il n’y a pas de solution à court terme et que nous devons aussi nous battre pour combattre l’ignorance, se placer sur le front éducatif, utiliser les médias pour relayer d’autres voix que celles des jihadistes omniprésents dans nos médias. Tout le monde connaît « El Bagdadi » il fait la une de nos journaux, personne ne connaît le nom des chefs de l’armée syrienne libre ou des combattants kurdes irakiens. Pourquoi ?

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Why translate Zakaria Tamer’s stories into Sardinian when you could translate them into Italian?

November 18th, 2015 · Arabic, Prose, Translation, Translator, Uncategorized

on ( 2 )

By Alessandro Columbu 

Columbu with Zakaria Tamer.

On October 2, Segamentu de Ancas, the Sardinian translation of Zakaria Tamer’s Taksir Rukab(Riyad el-Rayyes Books, Beirut, 2002) appeared in Sardinia’s bookshops. It was brought out by an independent publishing house based in Casteddu, Condaghes, which has pioneered the publication of novels, short stories, and poetry in Sardinian. These include works written in Sardinian as well as a number of translations of major masterpieces of European literature such as Joyce’sDubliners and Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha. October 2 was a historic day for this house and indeed for the Sardinian language as Segamentu de Ancas is the first Arabic book to have ever been translated into Sardinian.

Many, especially back home and in Italy, have asked me why I translated the sixty-three stories of Tamer’s Taksir Rukab into Sardinian. I could’ve done the same into Italian, the only language that enjoys official status in Sardinia, and perhaps hoped to see it published by a major Italian house. The public’s interest in Syria has risen and for an academic-wannabe, the publication of a translation can be a massive boost to one’s career. Also, and most importantly, although not my mother tongue, Italian is the language in which I received my primary and higher education. When writing and addressing more sophisticated subjects, I definitely feel a lot more comfortable using Italian, because I possess a more robust command of its high vocabulary. Sardinian, on the other hand, is a poorly standardized language, which enjoys only a façade/gesture-politics status as one of the official languages in Sardinia’s local statute of autonomy. In practice, from the point of view of sociolinguistics, Sardinian is still unofficially treated as a dialect of Italian.

The reasons why I decided to do this are numerous. In 2011, upon my return from Syria with a bag full of books by Tamer and others, I began translating some of the stories for fun, to keep up my Arabic, and to ‘test’ my mother tongue and its potential. Can Arabic be translated into an uncodified language like ours? Can the Syrian, Arab, and Islamic cultural universe be transposed convincingly into a language that its native speakers usually perceive as somehow crippled, and lacking the necessary characteristics to speak modernity?

The question is not a simple or rhetorical one. Translation is an incredibly difficult, sometimes thankless task to carry out with the help of a dictionary, let alone without one. The answer, obviously, is yes, and soon I found myself with a substantial corpus of stories that I decided to include into my MA dissertation on Zakaria Tamer that I discussed at the University of Bologna in 2012, earning the ‘dignità di stampa’ (the equivalent of an official endorsement for publication) from the examining committee, which in hindsight represented a crucial backing for my initiative.

In addition, one of the major drivers that encouraged me to embark in this ambitious enterprise was, paradoxically, the lukewarm reception that my idea received in its very early stages from Sardinian Arabists: “You should do it in Italian,” said a professor of Arabic, and a native speaker of Sardinian, whose advice and guidance I sought. “It will be easier and the language will be clearer.” This outlook has always felt so ludicrous to me. This fossilized, self-belittling mentality, and the unsophisticated stereotypes that Sardinian academia finds itself embroiled in, were only a further incentive for me to continue in my initiative with greater enthusiasm and motivation.


Obviously, not everybody in Sardinia has the same stance, and I found hearty support from activists, writers, and artists who share with me the passion for this language. After my graduation, and aware of the enormous expressive potential of this language, in my free time I continued translating the stories of Taksir Rukab, which I only completed last year. Once completed my manuscript, I proposed the text for publication to Condaghes, who replied with great enthusiasm. I am very grateful for their help in bringing Zakaria Tamer to Sardinia. Sardinian, like most ‘minority’ and endangered languages, is employed nowadays almost exclusively in familial and informal contexts. This in turn has brought about a ghettoization of our language and its exclusion from the realms of thought, knowledge, and culture. In the current Sardinian zeitgeist, our language represents a hindrance rather than a tool to open ourselves to our neighbors in the Mediterranean and to the entire planet.

Education is provided only in Italian, and only a handful of courageous nationalist groups have unwaveringly demanded the implementation of our language’s official status as stated in the local constitution in the fields of education, mass media, translation, and for the drawing of all official acts issued by the local government. And although the forty-year mobilization of an army of activists and intellectuals has achieved a great deal for its revitalization, codification, standardization and modernization, the Sardinian language is currently lacking an elite to support and actively show the way towards emancipation.  Since the days of my dissertation in Bologna, I imagined this translation as my humble but daring contribution to the process of liberation of the Sardinian language from the quagmire of clichés that relegate it to a remote corner of cultural production, imprisoning it is in a mentality according to which so-called ‘local’ languages can only express concepts that are strictly related to the culture and the tradition from which they stem.

Motivating this arduous initiative, then, was also the desire to lay the foundations of an imaginary bridge between Syria and Sardinia, the Arabic and the Sardinian languages. Ever since my year in Syria in 2010, I’d wanted to bring Tamer’s stories home and to show Syria from a different and unusual angle, from the point of view of an original short-story writer whose episodes offer suggestive insights into the human condition employing unmistakably Syrian characters as the pretext to express a progressive political stance. I hope this publication will bring about greater enthusiasm for the Sardinian linguistic heritage, as well as for Syria as a door to access the broader Arab-Islamic world and translate it with all its complexities and nuances. I think that literature can be a great way to travel with the mind, to explore Syria through a genuine narrative devoid of stereotypes. This goes for many other Syrian writers too, not only Zakaria Tamer.

Alessandro Columbu is a PhD candidate and Arabic teacher in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Edinburgh. Originally from Sardinia, he obtained his BA Foreign Languages and literature and MA in Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa from the University of Bologna, Italy. He learnt Arabic in Damascus and has studied at a number of academic institutions across Europe and the Arab Middle East including the University of Barcelona, the School of Oriental and African Studies of London and the French Institute of the Near East of Beirut and Amman. His translation from Arabic into the Sardinian language of Zakaria Tamer’s Taksir Rukab (Riad al-Rayyes, 2002) was published in October this year by Condaghes, an independent publishing house based in Casteddu/Cagliari.

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The Days After (The Paris Massacre)

November 15th, 2015 · Uncategorized

IMG_57967:30. a.m. Paris. Right now a moveable disaster. Saturday dawn’s here but no noise outside, no one visible on the street under my window. As a writer I should have words. But none have come yet. Made coffee. Which brought to mind those pages from Mahmood Darwish’s “Memory of Forgetfulness,” where he describes making coffee as he wakes up in Beirut after a night of bombings. The coffee is growing cold as I hesitate, groping for words. I’ll drink the coffee now. Talk/write later.

9:30 a.m. Walked out & Paris streets are beginning to show signs of life, at least in my quarter, Saint Germain / Saint Sulpice. Parents with baby strollers, housewives with baguettes, a few tourists. But my healthfood store remains closed. Maybe this afternoon. I bought today’s “Libération” at the news stand. Strange compulsion to see in print what you saw on TV all night. Need for archive, maybe. The newsstand on Place St Sulpice: the window behind which the lady who takes you money sits is framed by books. The first my eyes fell on was Régis Debray’s “Eloge des frontières /In Praise of Borders” — one of the many books by aging leftists-turned-reactionaries. Of course during the night President Hollande called for closing the borders. As if closing the borders could keep evil out or evil foreigners from escaping. As if evil was foreign, was always the other. Borders are what the trouble is (see my piece in the current Poetry Project Newsletter).

With Libé in hand I couldn’t resist that most French of morning transactions: I walked into the Café de la Mairie, went up to the bar & ordered a café allongé and a croissant (first croisant in ages, as I don’t eat those things made of white flour anymore, though this morning a symbolic gesture was in order). The café was half-full, people reading the morning paper, but also books, correcting proofs or something, the usual daily traffic.It’s colder today than it has been this warm November & so nobody was sitting outside. I nibbled at the croissant, left most on the counter, downed the coffee, had a quick, smilingly reassuring exchange with the barman and my usual backroom waiter, wished everyone a “bonne journée,” and came home.

11:00 Accumulating face-book messages: “be safe. our prayers are with you.” Well-meant unthinking: the killers muttered prayers as they pulled the trigger. Prayers & monotheisms are the roots of this evil. Prayer slashes thought’s throat. & what we need right now is new & better thinking.

2:30 p.m. Lunch time needed to be acknowledged. I went back to the Café de la Mairie, ordered my usual noon-time omelet, asking if they had the “pleurotes”which they had had earlier in the week. Pleurotes are oyster mushrooms, though my request rhymed more with the homophone French meaning “pleurs” tears, cries, weeping. The waiter told me, no there were no pleurotes today but he could offer an omelet with “trompettes des morts, “ literally “trumpets of the dead” — an edible mushroom we call “horn of plenty,”  also known as the black chanterelle, or black trumpet. I looked at the waiter with a bit of surprise & grimaced somewhat sarcastically something like, “fits the day, no?” He couldn’t or didn’t want to pick up on the reference. I decided that, yes, this was the day for such an omelet & told him to bring it on.

11 p.m. Time to turn the newsmedia off — the constant repetition of the same news bits is wearing out my patience. As I try to fall asleep I realize how odd my first FB message was: my immediate association of the Paris disaster went via Darwish’s memoir to similar tragic events in Beirut in the 80s, i.e. thirty years ago. And didn’t instantly link up to the blast in that same city 24 hours earlier, i.e. on Thursday night, that killed over forty people on a busy shopping street. Maybe that was because I was looking for words (that hadn’t come yet) to speak to the Paris disaster, and words are found in books, and so naturally — or culturally? — my mind went to the best words I knew that had been written cocnerning a similar tragedy.

11/15  9 a.m. Just a quick listen to a news update upon waking up. Will try to keep the TV (& even the radio) down to a minimum today. Make coffee again, sip it while gathering in mind the expanding ring of places Paris has now joined: Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo, Garissa (Kenya), Tunis, Ankara, Madrid. Not to speak of the heart of the Mashreq, Iraq & Syria.

The night had been eerily silent: below my window, the “rue de la soif” as it is known, is on weekends filled with revelers and since the prohibition to smoke, there are constantly 100 or more smokers on the street  screaming, talking, shouting, singing, smoking all night long.  This past two nights, nothing, no noise, no revelers. When I looked down on the strret this morning I saw the sophisticated street-cleaning machina parked at one end, ready to do its job. A desultory one this morning: where usually thousands of cigarette butts make a raggedly carpet on the blacktop for any number of broken glasses and empty cans, there was nothing for the machine to pick up. As if the night had not happened. 

Unable as yet to turn back to the reading I was doing before the event, I start making notes. The impulse is to turn the TV on. Maybe something else has happened? Maybe they have found out something important? — On Sunday morning in the 60 minutes since I listened to the news? Who am I kidding. I resist and turn to some much needed music: Hans Werner Henze’s Winter Music, his sonatas on Shakespearean characters, with David Tanenbaum on guitar.

An hour later I went out for a much needed morning walk after too many hours cooped up in the flat, and an even more abstruse not to say absurd scene greeted me: a moveable crane stood in the middle of the street with a solitary worker on top of the laddered arm fixing christmas street-lights on the facades of the houses on both sides of the street. The horizontal strip was fixed but the various vertical lines with their small lights were all still dangling in messy bundles as if carelessly thrown over the horizontal holds. As if the worker or the city didn’t have his or its heart in next month’s celebration as yet — though, obviously, not even 128 deaths can stop the commercial capitalist vulture-machine known as christmas.

The walk was bracing. Only once did I startle up, on my “qui-vive” as one is after events like those of the 13th, no matter how blasé one thinks one is or can act. That happened as I saw a crowd gathered on the Boulevard Saint Germain near its intersection with the rue des Saint Pères, and two vehicles that looked like TV trucks next to them. Approaching, I realized that the Ukrainian church stood on the right and that the people were the attendees of Sunday morning mass. I wound my way through them, crossed the rue des Saint-Pères, passed the café which I can never pass without thinking of the two poet friends I had a long afternoon conversation with  on that terrasse in 1985 — both gone now, namely Ted Joans and Joyce Mansour. I hang a left, cross the street and start on the way back — my mind suddenly turning toward poetry again, or if not poetry, then toward words, and the way they line themselves up, the work that takes.

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West Antarctica’s ice masses

November 5th, 2015 · Uncategorized

Press Release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)


LOCALICELocal destabilization can cause complete loss of West Antarctica’s ice masses

The huge West Antarctic ice sheet would collapse completely if the comparatively small Amundsen Basin is destabilized, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research find. A full discharge of ice into the ocean is calculated to yield about 3 meters of sea-level rise. Recent studies indicated that this area of the ice continent is already losing stability, making it the first element in the climate system about to tip. The new publication for the first time shows the inevitable consequence of such an event. According to the computer simulations, a few decades of ocean warming can start an ice loss that continues for centuries or even millennia.

“What we call the eternal ice of Antarctica unfortunately turns out not to be eternal at all,” says Johannes Feldmann, lead author of the study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “Once the ice masses get perturbed, which is what is happening today, they respond in a non-linear way: there is a relatively sudden breakdown of stability after a long period during which little change can be found.”

“A few decades can kickstart change going on for millennia”

This is what is expressed by the concept of tipping elements: pushed too far, they fall over into another state. This also applies to, for instance, the Amazon rainforest, and the Indian Monsoon system. In parts of Antarctica, the natural ice-flow into the ocean would substantially and permanently increase.

Ocean warming is slowly melting the ice shelves from beneath, those floating extensions of the land ice. Large portions of the West Antarctic ice sheet are grounded on bedrock below sea level and generally slope downwards in an inland direction. Ice loss can make the grounding line retreat, thereby exposing more and more ice to the slightly warmer ocean water – further accelerating the retreat.

“In our simulations 60 years of melting at the presently observed rate are enough to launch a process which is then unstoppable and goes on for thousands of years,” Feldmann says. This would eventually yield at least 3 meters of  sea-level rise. “This certainly is a long process,” Feldmann says. “But it’s likely starting right now.”

The greenhouse-gas emission factor

“So far we lack sufficient evidence to tell whether or not the Amundsen ice destabilization is due to greenhouse gases and the resulting global warming,” says co-author and IPCC sea-level expert Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute. “But it is clear that further greenhouse-gas emission will heighten the risk of an ice collapse in West Antarctica and more unstoppable sea-level rise.”

“That is not something we have to be afraid of, because it develops slowly,” concludes Levermann. “But it might be something to worry about, because it would destroy our future heritage by consuming the cities we live in – unless we reduce carbon emission quickly.”

Article: Feldmann, J., Levermann, A. (2015): Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet after local destabilization of the Amundsen Basin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, Online Early Edition) [DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1512482112]

Weblink to the article once it is published:

For further information please contact:

PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Twitter: @PIK_Climate

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Hassan Blasim: ‘A Refugee in the Paradise that is Europe’

November 4th, 2015 · Arab Culture

via Arab Literature (in English) on NOVEMBER 4, 2015 :

hassanBlasim reading. Image from his website.

A short text by Iraqi short-story writer and filmmaker Hassan Blasim, translated by Jonathan Wright:

You escape death.
They hit you on the border.
They insult you in the racist newspapers.
They analyse your child’s dead body on television.
They get together and discuss your past and your future.
In their pictures they draw you drowning.
They put you in their museums and applaud.
They decide to stop hitting you and set up a military unit to confront you.
Academics get new grant money to research your body and your soul.
Politicians drink red wine after an emergency meeting to discuss your fate.
They study history in search of an answer for your daughter, who’s freezing in the forest cold.
They weep crocodile tears over your pain.
They come out in demonstrations against you and build walls.
Green activists put up pictures of you in the street.
Others sit on their sofas, comment wearily on your picture on Facebook, and go to sleep.
They strip away your humanity in debates that are clever and sharp as knives.
They write you down today and, with the eraser of selfishness, make you disappear the next morning.
They expect to come across their own humanity through your tragedy.
They take you into their paradise, then flog you night and day with their horror at your eyes, which radiate fear and hope.
The past goes to sleep, and wakes up inside you.
The present engulfs you.
You produce children and grow old.
You die.

Translated By Jonathan Wright

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ALTA National Translation Award to “Breathturn into Timestead”

October 30th, 2015 · Poetry, Translation, Uncategorized

This just in from ALTA. I am obviously overjoyed, though unhappily I couldn’t be in Tucson for the occasion:

NTA Winner in Poetry: Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan, translated from the German by Pierre Joris

The National Translation Award (NTA), given by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) at our conference, is the oldest prize for a work of literary translation. This year, the association was pleased to present the award in poetry to translator Pierre Joris for his stunning translation into English from the German.

breathturnBreathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan, translated from the German by Pierre Joris (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014).

“More than a monumental work of scholarship, Pierre Joris’s 40-year project in translation of the later poetry of one of the twentieth century’s most original and “untranslatable” poets is an extraordinary work of poetry in contemporary English. With seeming ease, Joris conveys the complexity and inventiveness of the original German without oversimplifying or domesticating its difficulty, its dark beauty, or the depth of its ideas. His commentary is also of great value in illuminating the background, sources and meanings of Celan’s singular voice,” wrote judges in poetry Lisa Rose Bradford, Stephen Kessler, and Diana Thow.

Pierre Joris is the author of over forty books. As one of the foremost translators of avant-garde poetry into both French and English, he frequently explores the lesser-known works of both major and obscure experimental poets. His translations include Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader (Black Widow Press, 2012); Paul Celan: Selections (University of California Press, 2005); 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour (Inconundrum Press, 2003); and Pppppp: Kurt Schwitters Poems, Performance, Pieces, Proses, Plays, Poetics (Temple University Press, 1994). Of his translations of Paul Celan, poet Michael Palmer said: “Joris has dwelled during the better part of his life in Celan’s words and silences…he has journeyed through the work’s intricacies like very few others.”

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