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

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In View of Summer Reading

August 11th, 2014 · Uncategorized

We have been holed up in our Pyrenean mountain retreat — which, given French incompetence, has also meant being most of time without internet or telephone, & thus it has been impossible to post regularly except with great effort. During the summer months I like to post what I think of as “summer readings” — not beach novels, for certain, but longer sequences of writings, as I did a couple years ago with Claude Pélieu’s Kali Yug Express. Two such sequences were foreseen for this summer, but I have not yet gotten around to posting given the internet problems experienced under French Capitalist Bolshevism (as Nicole christened & we have come to call the local system), but also because the horrors of Gaza have demanded that whenever I was able to post, I speak to that man-made disaster.

But in a day or two I will start posting Robert Kelly’s Alchemic Journal in about 10 installments. This text from the early seventies has always been one of my favorite of Kelly’s works after I first read it in the IO Alchemy issue. Although Peter Cockelbergh & I couldn’t integrate this piece into our volume A Voice Full of Cities: The Collected Essays of Robert Kelly, to be published by Contra Mundum Press later this fall, I feel that having this text available at this point offers a lovely way of approaching Kelly’s work — the poetry & the poetics, if these two can in effect be separated.

Meanwhile, here are a few photos taken on our hikes around our hide-out. Enjoy.

In the distance, on the top of the mountain: those are not white stones, those are vultures waiting for something, a sheep's carcass probably.

In the distance, on the top of the mountain: those are not white stones, those are vultures waiting for something, a sheep’s carcass probably.


Less harsh, further down to earth, a butterfly at work.

Nicole inspecting what we can only identitfy as an alien mushroom.

Nicole inspecting what we can only identitfy as an alien mushroom.

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Welcome Home Villagers: A window into the minds of the Occupiers (“The most moral army in the world”)

August 8th, 2014 · Gaza Strip, Israel, Man-made Disaster, Palestinian people

Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers at Beit Hanoun girls' school: photo via Hazem Balousha on twitter, 6 August 2014

Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers at Beit Hanoun girls’ school: photo via Hazem Balousha on twitter, 6 August 2014

The following comes via Tom Clarks’ blog — which you all should check out: he has been posting regularly on Gaza.

Palestinians returning home find Israeli troops left faeces and venomous graffiti

Ahmed Owedat also found soldiers had thrown his TVs, fridge, and computers from upstairs windows and slashed furniture 

Harriet Sherwood in Burij, The Guardian, 7 August 2014

When Ahmed Owedat returned to his home 18 days after Israeli soldiers took it over in the middle of the night, he was greeted with an overpowering stench.
He picked through the wreckage of his possessions thrown from upstairs windows to find that the departing troops had left a number of messages. One came from piles of faeces on his tiled floors and in wastepaper baskets, and a plastic bottle filled with urine.
Graffiti in Palestinian's home

Some of the graffiti Ahmed Owedat found on returning to his home in the town of Burij
: photo by Harriet Sherwood, 6 August 2014 
If that was not clear enough, the words “Fuck Hamas” had been carved into a concrete wall in the staircase. “Burn Gaza down” and “Good Arab = dead Arab” were engraved on a coffee table. The star of David was drawn in blue in a bedroom.
Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers in a house where they’d stayed during the ground invasion: photo via Hazem Balousha on twitter, 6 August 2014
“I have scrubbed the floors three times today and three times yesterday,” said Owedat, 52, as he surveyed the damage, which included four televisions, a fridge, a clock and several computers tossed out of windows, shredded curtains and slashed soft furnishings.
A handful of plastic chairs had their seats ripped open, through which the occupying soldiers defecated, he said. Gaping holes had been blown in four ground-floor external walls, and there was damage from shelling to the top floor. There, in the living room, diagrams had been drawn on the walls, showing buildings and palm trees in the village, with figures that Owedat thought represented their distance from the border.
“I have no money to fix this,” he said, claiming that his life savings of $10,000 (£6,000) were missing from his apartment. 
But at least it could be repaired, he acknowledged, gesturing through the broken glass at a wasteland stretching towards the Israel-Gaza border 3km away. “Every house between here and there has been destroyed.”
His family of 13 fled their home after seeing troops and tanks advancing at 1am on 20 July, two days into the Israeli ground invasion. Several times, during the short-lived ceasefires in the following two weeks, they attempted to return only to find Israeli troops in their home instructing them to keep away.

Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers in a house where they’d stayed during the ground invasion: photo via Hazem Balousha on twitter, 6 August 2014

The Israel Defence Forces did not respond to a request for comment.

For the first time families of killed people in Gaza are able to have mourning tents today, during the 72 hours ceasefire: photo by Hazem Balousha via twitter, 5 August 2014

Half an hour’s drive north, a similar picture was found at Beit Hanoun girls’ school, taken over by the IDF following the ground operation. Broken glass and rubble littered the floors and stairs. Tables and desks were covered in the abandoned detritus of an occupying army: hardened bread rolls, empty tins of hummus, desiccated olives, cans of energy drinks, bullet casings. Flies buzzed around the rotting food.
Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers at Beit Hanoun girls’ school: photo via Hazem Balousha on twitter, 6 August 2014
Here too, said the school’s caretaker, Fayez, who didn’t want to give his full name, soldiers had defecated in bins and cardboard boxes, and urinated in water bottles. “You will be fucked here” and “Don’t forget it’s time for you to die” were chalked in English on blackboards.
Here, Hamas had struck back. After the troops pulled out, counter-graffiti was sprayed on the walls, referring to Hamas’s militant wing, Qassam brigades. “Qassam’s army will crush you — dogs” and “Israel will be defeated”.
The 1,250 pupils at the school will, it is hoped, never see either set of venomous messages. Workers began the marathon cleanup operation this week but, said Fayez, “it will take at least a month to fix”. The academic year is due to begin in a little over two weeks.


Some of devastation I have seen today in Khuzaa village east of Khanyounis: photo by Hazem Balousha via twitter, 4 August 2014

Some time back to the war …

Defense Minister Ehud Barak commented that the Israeli army is the ‘most moral army in the world…’” (3/09)
The phrase has covered a lot of mileage.
“IDF spokesperson Seymour Chutzpah meanwhile said the IDF was the most moral army in the world…” (7/14)
The verbs are interesting. “Pointed out” would betray the arrogance. “Claimed” would be too impartial. “Admitted” might be the best choice. “The Israeli Defense Minister conceded today that the IDF is ‘the most moral army in the world…’”  
Sources for these photos are Guardian correspondent Harriet Sherwood and the internationally recognized Palestinian Journalist Hazem Balousha, whose photos and reports appear regularly in The Guardian, Al-Monitor, and DW World, among other places; he holds a BA in Journalism, an MA in International Relations, and is the founder of the Gaza City-based Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development.

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Conversation with Pierre Joris at the NYS Writers Institute in 2014

August 7th, 2014 · Uncategorized

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If We Release a Small Fraction of Arctic Carbon, ‘We’re Fucked’: Climatologist

August 6th, 2014 · Antarctic Ice, Arctic Ice, Environment, Global Warming

Below the opening paragraphs of an article by  BRIAN MERCHANT from motherboard. You can read the full piece here.

This week, scientists made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor,” as the Stockholm University put it in a release disclosing the observations. The plume of methane—a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide, the chief driver of climate change—was unsettling to the scientists.

But it was even more unnerving to Dr. Jason Box, a widely published climatologist who had been following the expedition. As I was digging into the new development, I stumbled upon his tweet, which, coming from a scientist, was downright chilling:


Box, who is currently a professor of glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, has been studying the Arctic for decades. His accolade-packed Wikipedia page notes that he’s made some 20 expeditions to the Arctic since 1994, and served as the lead author on the Greenland section of NOAA’s State of the Climate report from 2008-2012. He also runs the Dark Snow project and writes about the latest findings in the field at his blog, Meltfactor.

In other words, Box knows the Arctic, and he knows climate change—and the methane plumes had him blitzed enough to bring out the F bombs.

Now, the scientists in the Arctic didn’t fully understand why the plumes were occurring. But they speculated that a warmer “tongue” of ocean current was destabilizing methane hydrates on the Arctic slope.

I called the scientist at his office in Copenhagen, and he talked frankly and emphatically about the new threat, and about the specter of climate change in general. He also swore like a sailor, which I’ve often wondered how climatologists refrain from doing, given the urgency of the problem—it’s certainly an entirely accurate way to communicate the climate plight.

First of all, I asked Box if he stood by that tweet. He did. He’d revise it a bit, to include surface carbon—methane locked in the permafrost that’s also beginning to leak out—because if we loose enough of either, we’re in trouble.

“Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked,” he told me. What alarmed him was that “the methane bubbles were reaching the surface. That was something new in my survey of methane bubbles,” he said.

The scientists’ video of methane bubbles in the Arctic Ocean.

“The conventional thought is that the bubbles would be dissolved before they reached the surface and that microorganisms would consume that methane, and that’s normal,” Box went on. But if the plumes are making it to the surface, that’s a brand new source of heat-trapping gases that we need to worry about.

…. [ctd. here].

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The Many Lives of a Political Poem: From Hebrew, to Arabic, to Another Life in Hebrew

August 2nd, 2014 · Gaza Strip, Human rights, Israel, Man-made Disaster, Palestine, Poetry, Translation, Uncategorized

via the always excellent Arab Literature (in English):

Over at The Paris Review, poet and translator Peter Cole writes about the ironic new life that Benjamin Netanyahu has given to Hayim Nahman Bialik’s poem “On the Slaughter”:

A young Bialik; Cole writes, about thirty.

In the days after the three Israeli teens were murdered, most likely hours after their kidnapping, Netanyahu publicly expressed condolences to the families while quoting from Bialik: “Vengeance … for the blood of a small child, / Satan has not yet created.”

Netanyahu continued by adding: “Hamas is responsible — and Hamas will pay.”

As Cole writes:

Never mind that the poem intoned by Mr. Netanyahu wasn’t Israeli: it was written long before the state was founded and very far from it. “On the Slaughter” was the thirty-year-old Odessan Hayim Nahman Bialik’s immediate response to the April 1903 pogroms in the Bessarabian town of Kishinev, where some forty-nine Jews were slashed, hacked, and cudgeled to death, or drowned in outhouse feces, and hundreds were wounded over the course of several days. Women and girls were raped repeatedly. The Jewish part of town was decimated. Netanyahu quoted just two lines, carefully avoiding the one preceding them: “Cursed be he who cries out: Revenge!”

Cole also adds, interestingly, that the poem received a “potent 1966 translation by the first star of Palestinian resistance poetry, Rashid Hussein.” He further imagines that the poem could have had another life in Arabic, as one might well imagine “a YouTube reading of Hussein’s translation by a thirty-year-old poet in what’s left of the Gazan neighborhood of Sheja’iyeh[.]“

Cole noted, over email, that his wife, Adina Hoffman, wrote more in-depth about Rashid Hussein and his Bialik translation in her My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century.

Rashid Hussein, not yet 30.

Indeed, there is a beautiful brief sketch of Rashid Hussein in the book, a poet Mahmoud Darwish would call “the star.” Hoffman writes that Hussein was the first Palestinian poet “to have graduated from an Israeli high school, and this gave him a window onto both Hebrew literature and world literature in Hebrew translation. The window worked in complex ways, making him more sympathetic to the feelings of his Jewish countrymen — while it also granted him the insight to write, as he would that same year, that ‘whoever denies us [Arabs] the right to express our suffering and our hopes must also deny Bialik and [Hebrew-language Russian-Jewish poet Shaul] Tchernikovsky most of their nationalist poems.’”

Also: “Rashid would go on to translate a book of Bialik’s poems into Arabic; he was hired to do so by the editors of a series sponsored by the Hebrew University, but it was an assignment of of which he was proud.”

As Cole further noted in email, very little has been written aout the translations, but, “So far as we know—they didn’t circulate beyond Israel’s Arabic readership. … Whether or not they were ever reprinted, in Beirut, say, or anywhere else — we just don’t know. But it seems unlikely.”

Cole adds that Hussein’s “aim in doing the Bialik was, in part, to make a statement.”

It is impossible to know what Bialik would think of Netanyahu’s use of his poem, but the poem, like other political poetry, seems to have its own declared allegiance.


Read the poem in English translation

Read the poem in Arabic translation

Two poems by Hussein, trans. Sinan Antoon

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Gaza’s writers keep writing under the bombs

July 21st, 2014 · Gaza Strip, Palestine

via The Electronic Intifada:

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on 19 July.

(Mohammad Othman / APA images)

Despite Israel’s relentless aerial bombardments, shelling and ground attacks for nearly two weeks, Palestinian writers in Gaza have responded to the latest onslaught by doing what they know – writing.

According to an email from Ra Page, director of Manchester-based Comma Press, which recently published a collection of short stories from writers in Gaza, “all of theBook of Gaza contributors are writing away like crazy, whilst they have power.” (Eighty percent of households in Gaza currently have only up to four hours of power per dayas Israel has badly damaged the Strip’s electricity infrastructure.)

These writers include Nayrouz Qarmout, whose work is currently being translated for publication, and Najlaa Ataallah. Ataallah has built upon her existing Arabic-language writing — which includes two novels and a short story collection — with English posts to her blog, in the hope of sharing her experiences of the bombing and invasion with a wider audience.

Her response to the ninth day of the current attack includes this passage:

Did I die?

No doubt, this is all your hallucination of what it’s like to be dead. I’m still thinking of being not dead. Yes, I kicked him out. I triumphed upon him. He did not hug me nor took me with him to the sky.

I’m still here. I’m on this ground.

You are delirious. Your temperature skyrocketed. Your body trembles uncontrollably. Your mother recites the verses from the Quran over your head. The bed shakes.

“What day is it today?”, you asked your mother.

She lowers her head, trying to answer you. It looks like she too has forgotten the day and the date.

But that’s not what you are asking for…

You wanted to know which day of the aggression is this day. Did you pass the ninth day without death harvesting you, or are you still inside this ninth day cycle?

More of Ataallah’s writing can be found on her blog.

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Israeli shelling destroys poet Othman Hussein’s Gaza home

July 20th, 2014 · Palestine

Burned books from the collection of Palestinian poet Othman Hussein

Burned books from the collection of Gaza poet Othman Hussein. (Maysoon Hussein)

via The Electronic Intifada
Submitted by Sarah Irving on Sat, 07/19/2014 – 17:15

The ongoing Israeli onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza has already hit its cultural life with the demolition of the home of artist Raed Issa by an air strike on Tuesday.

This has been followed by the destruction of the house of poet Othman Hussein and his family in Rafah in southern Gaza. According to family friends in the UK who spoke to The Electronic Intifada, the house, located in Shuka, an agricultural town east of Rafah, was hit by tank shells on Thursday, 17 July. The home was completely destroyed, although Hussein and his relations were able to escape harm.

Othman Hussein is a well-known Palestinian poet whose work has appeared in many publications, including Masharef, the journal founded by the great Palestinian writerEmile Habibi. In English translation, his poetry has appeared in Izzat Ghazzawi’s 1997 collection Modern Palestinian Poetry in Translation and most recently in A Bird is Not a Stone.

Hussein’s contribution to the latter anthology, perhaps ironically, includes a poem entitled Camp Block 5, which describes a fierce Israeli attack on a Palestinian refugee camp and the courage of its defenders:

I have to go, I said: I have to. The barbarians are besieging time and place, besieging this rapid breathing in the side-alleys of frustration’s long journey. Explosions ripple, fear controls the situation. Justified and upstanding fear in the face of history at a great crossroads. They monitor us and we monitor them and we besiege their glory with our weakness. Tank shells and small-arms fire and their hatred, all these roll before the demolition machines.

I will go now. Many children, half asleep and stumbling and falling as you hurry them from their houses at the hour of dawn. Houses that will be levelled like accusations in just a moment.

A father carries his children and rushes like a missile out of what will shortly be a pile of cement…

(Excerpt from Camp Block 5 by Othman Hussein, translated by Henry King and Sarah Irving)

Othman Hussein was also one of the many who have spoken out against the degrading treatment dealt out to Palestinians by Israeli security forces in Gaza, as cited in a 2007 article by Israeli journalist Amira Hass.

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Bye, Bye, Johnny

July 18th, 2014 · Music, Obituaries

I’ll always remember that late night more or less incoherently right on conversation about the blues at the bar of the El Quichote, sometime in 1970. And the music, the music will always be there. Thanks.


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July 17th, 2014 · Gaza Strip, Human rights, Israel, Middle East, Palestine

gazabombingThe horror of what’s happening in Gaza is there for all to see. Here are the opening lines of Mahmood Darwish’s poem on Gaza:

Gaza is far from its relatives and close to its enemies, because whenever Gaza explodes, it becomes an island and it never stops exploding. It scratched the enemy’s face, broke his dreams and stopped his satisfaction with time.

Because in Gaza time is something different.

Because in Gaza time is not a neutral element.

It does not compel people to cool contemplation, but rather to explosion and a collision with reality.

Time there does not take children from childhood to old age, but rather makes them men in their first confrontation with the enemy.

Time in Gaza is not relaxation, but storming the burning noon. Because in Gaza values are different, different, different.

The only value for the occupied is the extent of his resistance to occupation.

You can read the whole poem & see a range of images from Gaza on Tom Clark’s blog, here. You can also follow detailed analysis of the situation on Jadaliyya, here.

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Jörg Fauser

July 16th, 2014 · Literature, Translation, Uncategorized

On this day, back in 1987, my old friend the German writer Jörg Fauser died, hit by a car. There isn’t much available in English, but check here & here. Way back when — very early 70s — I translated bits & pieces of his prose for underground magazines, but have no copies or docs of all that left. Like Jörg all his life, I was a beat-inspired Burroughs-devotee wanderer in those days. Below, a German-language video of a TV appearance late in his career, & beneath that an English-language review of his crime novel, The Snowman:


From LIBIDISSI’s hip randomness it’s a big step up to THE SNOWMAN (Bitter Lemon Press, 249pp), which appeared in Germany in 1981 and took twenty years to make it into English. It seem that the author, Jörg Fauser lived the life of his central character, right up to his untimely death wandering onto a motorway and right into the path of a truck. Our fictional anti-hero here is Siegfried Blum, the ultimate loser-adventurer. His is a soul attracted by pretty much everything in this life that nice people warn against. We meet him first in Malta, close to forty years old, trying to sell a stash of Danish pornographic magazines. Just before the local cops eject him from their Mediterranean patch he chances upon a lovely big load of cocaine. READ ON! The source of this book’s considerable charm is the good, well actually pretty bad, Herr Blum, and upon his capacity to court disaster. All of which gives a dark tale of paranoia and life in the underworld a comic edge; just enough oblique humour to cause a reader to smile at this rag-tag life of ours and its underworld vicissitudes.

The Book

Fauser, Jörg: The Snowman / translated by Anthea Bell. – London : Bitter Lemon Press, 2004. – 249 pages ISBN 1-904738-05-2 Original title: Der Schneemann (German)

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