Janine Pommy-Vega (1942-2010)

The poet, teacher & activist Janine Pommy-Vega passed away yesterday, 23 December. More information here and here. And below, the opening poem of her first book, Poems to Fernando (City Lights Books, 1968):

The Last Watch

The monk's prayer sung bowed down in the dome
comes around ascending sound
calling far as the land reaches
Wakefulness now in the last watch —
Lord near us!
& churchbells toll no hour thrice….

dogs barking endlessly nightlong, a sign
of the ending of days, are lain down in stillness;
From my threshold of silence candlelighted I listen
alone, the flourish of wind through the trees —

dawn of grey rose, expansion of morning.

Awake! lone bird at my window exulting
each morning   just now   pure voice of clear water
over scales sings his varying plainchant,
Occasional cock’s crow of distance immersed
in his heraldry clear as the altitude of bells

: Delight of the First Day sings Origin’s creature
Joy blessed with creation, and the reigning of light!
A shower of thistlefall tongue could not tell
of this river I listen to, silver and lilting
and Swiftly Gone; merged beneath morning
he returns to his home unseen among fountains.

From flickering room, grey shades of the window
I come into clarity, deep blue beginning
the sky again round in the East, and extending
the breadth of horizon/ scarlet Ariel hearth until sunrise.

Dawn waiting under the branches,
Morning leaps out of my eye!
Celestial candles coinciding at sunrise!
Red-Golden the tolling of bells rolls over me!
Sounds falling in one enormous voice, foretelling
the day by its chorus, expanding horizons onto
heaven: for empty of thee the psalm perishes.

Jerusalem, ’63

25/12/2010: Valery Oisteanu just sent me his homage-poem for Janine, which I’ll add:

The Drum Circle for Janine Pommy Vega

Beat the drums slowly, like a wave of pebbles
For the Bearsville medicine woman of Willow
Beat the drums quietly, for the beat poetess of Woodstock
Beat the drums, till the snakes gather round the fire
The witches’ brew fills the air with vapors of lizards
As the guitars play for the freedom of memory
In a trance, shaking shakers, improvising, reading
From Europe to Naropa, from Colorado to El Dorado
The woman-warrior of the Beats, from Napoli to Tripoli
Radical, instinctual, climbing the highest mountains
A Wind has blown out her candles
Disappearing deep in the dark forest
The blossoms remain floating in your garden,
Down the steep slopes into your creek
Sleep Janine, with all the birds exulting at your window
They cannot wake you up anymore, only your memory
Beat the drums till we are out of breath
Janine walks freely through the Eternal city

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Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris is a poet, translator, essayist & anthologist who has published more than 50 books, most recently, Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems) from Chax Press and The University of California Book of North African Literature (volume 4 in the Poems for the Millennium series), coedited with Habib Tengour. Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader edited & translated by Joris, and Pierre Joris: Cartographies of the In-between, essays on Joris’ work edited by Peter Cockelbergh, came out in 2012. Forthcoming are Barzakh — Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) & Breathturn Into Timestead:The Collected Later Poems of Paul Celan (FSG).

7 opinions on “Janine Pommy-Vega (1942-2010)”

  1. She released herself from suffering dancing and chanting when one could hardly believe it possible. So it continues as we hear it here. Goodnight, Janine.

  2. Janine was my first poetry teacher, who 10 years ago participated in a program that brought NYS poets through the public schools. I participated in several workshops with her there and then in Lake George for a week long program also sponsored by the state. I remember reading her book “Tracking the Serpent” and wanting — no, needing to go to Peru. In fact, when I did end up going for the first time, with her help, I hiked through the Cordillera Blanca with her friend and the guide in that book, Glicerio. She was a great poet and friend. I look forward to rereading her work and celebrating her.

  3. It is now mid June 2011 and I have just learned of Janine’s passing. I was planning to go to what I thought was her Poetry Reading this weekend, but in fact it was a memorial. I lived in Janine’s house in Willow during the summer of 1980. A magical place. We read all of her books, poems & felt an immedite closeness. When Janine returned we felt an immediate connection. What a powerful soul. A goddess. xxxxxx

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