Heart Beats, Drum Beats, and Tidal Wave Sentences

For more than two decades a panoply of poets, musicians, and critics have helped me with a course I teach on poetry and music every other spring. A course staple over sixteen years was a trip from Washington DC, where I teach and live, to the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, where the Allman Brothers Band held a three-week run of sold out concerts each March. The band would play three-hour shows, and afterwards about one hundred students would stay in the theater and gather for a session on the creative process. Band members and writers whom I’d invited (I take advantage of my friends) would discuss questions I’d sent them in advance and answer students’ questions.

Editor’s Preface

Given the cultural climate of our time, it is important to remember that literary matters can transcend borders, both spatial and temporal. The literary imagination humanizes us to each other, and to ourselves, by leading us, however briefly and however imperfectly, beyond our everyday lives and into the lives of other people, people sometimes separated by thousands of miles or years, sometimes by only a few steps. My personal belief—one that need not be shared by others—is that serious study of the best literature, both of the past and of the present, teaches us quickly the radical insufficiency of our individual experiences, whatever they may be, and perpetually encourages us to be more humble, more open, more receptive, more courageously empathic, more merciful, and more loving. There is no end to learning these virtues.

“Traduire: Jouer”

Translating: acting” by Nicolas Pesquès
Translated by Adelaide Russo

In the first place, considering that I will retain the play of the body; for if translation is a task of writing, and if writing is indeed a corporeal work, then translation is theatrical: from the instant that it is a question to replay the experience of an original body with its own language.

To learn and replay the scene of sentences. Make and remake in the body of the translator the writing path that the first body followed. Take into account the one who carried his voice: the places, the stories, the conditions, the circumstances etc.

“Cervantes to Veneziano”

“Cervantes to Veneziano” by Miguel Cervantes
Translated by Gabrielle Piedad Ponce-Hegenauer

In November 1579, just one month after his thirty-second birthday, a young soldier-poet by the name of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), was being held in solitary confinement by Hasan Pachá following his fourth unsuccessful escape attempt from captivity in Algiers. By the age of twenty-one his lyric verse had made him the featured poet for the funeral exequies of Philip II of Spain’s third wife, Isabel de Valois; the volume was published in 1569. From 1569-1571 he had served Giulio Acquaviva in Rome. In 1571 he was he wounded at the Battle of Lepanto and lost the use of his left hand, earning him the epithet el manco de Lepanto. In September 1575 after departing Naples for the court in Madrid with letters of commendation from Don Juan de Austria and the Third Duke of Sessa, he was captured by Arnaut Mamí and sold into captivity in Algiers. He would not be ransomed until the fall of 1580.

Las Muchachas

When we knew they were busy reading their Corin Tellado romance novels to each other, and watching their telenovelas, we locked the bedroom door to whoever’s apartment it was. They’d recently started calling us by our baby names and trying to make us their nenas again, offering to take us shopping and sharing their Vanidades Magazines in Spanish. We saw their fear, and we played up to it. “Ramonita, Carmencita, Inesita, Vengan! Let’s go downtown and do a little shopping.” We saw it was a trap. They told each other where we were and paid each other visitas when we happened to be there. They claimed it was to roll each other’s hair in those hideous pink curlers, or to exchange books and magazines in Spanish. But we knew they were spying on us. We didn’t fall for it, no Señoras. “No tengo ganas,” one of us was sure to say, not in the mood for shopping, or, “We are working on el homework.” We knew our mothers wanted to curb our tastes and desires and we said “no, gracias.” It was the year of diminutives.

“When a Text Isn’t Funny Anymore: Ovid’s Art of Love

Given that some of its humor is no longer funny for modern readers, what is the pedagogical value of humor in Ovid’s Art of Love today? In particular, portions of the poem depicting and even endorsing rape pose challenges for teachers who wish to acknowledge and share Ovid’s humor in Art of Love with their students. By situating portions of the Art of Love that are especially troubling for modern readers in the broader context of the poem’s dominant comic mode, I hope to show how our modern disquiet over those parts of the poem addressing rape can point us productively toward critiques inherent in Ovid’s poem itself.

“On The Hatred of Poetry

The Hatred of Poetry
By Ben Lerner
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 86pp., $12)

I too dislike it”: in his witty and appealing new book—more accurately an extended essay of 80+ pages—Ben Lerner puts forth a very simple if provocative thesis: we hate poetry because no individual poem can measure up to the ideal of poetry as something exalted and beyond human reach:

Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine. You’re moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms” (p. 8).