Creating vs. Translating Poetry

Monday, 8 September 2014, 10:38 | Category : Uncategorized
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Creating poetry is very hard at its source, since it means sinking the arms of one’s rationality deep into the tangled, murky and sometimes stinging slough of one’s dreams and creative imagination, and dragging something out. But once one has put in one’s 10,000 hours of work on poetic form, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, shaping that something into words is not so hard.

In translating, on the other hand, the original grab is easier: someone else guides one’s arms and places one’s hands on the right beastie down there. But now the hard part starts: to somehow become the other poet’s voice, to replicate the verse form and twists of implication that are easy for him (or her) but that one must invent in oneself, as a dramatist invents a character.

The Epic of Clair

Monday, 1 September 2014, 15:41 | Category : Uncategorized
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I’ve just read an engaging “Young Adult” long poem about a post-apocalyptic Minnesota-St. Paul in which the consequences of a major economic collapse are imaginatively evoked. The scenario is more convincingly devised than the ones seen in the Hunger Games movies and in Divergent, and it makes room for a fascinating variety of characters and ideological groups. The heroine, Clair the runner, is quite captivating, and I was charmed by her sweetness, toughness, and heart. It’s by Eric Charles Hanson, just out with Ilium Press.


Thursday, 7 August 2014, 17:43 | Category : Uncategorized
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I’m turning into a sort of connoisseur of lies: the lofty legalistic generalizations of Israeli politicians that skate over the ugly facts of what they are doing, the blatant lies of the terrorists that actually are a kind of boasting, the slick imitations of pious responsible journalism by the toadying Russian press, the amateurish version in the Ukrainian press (where little islands of truth poke up naively amongst the garbage), the self-serving lies of the Gaza street, which cooperates in putting its children in the line of fire to make propaganda, the deliberate promulgation of conspiracy theories by the middle eastern intelligentsia, the systematic murderous lying of Hamas where lying is a consistent policy even when it does not serve their interest (the general damage done to reason and logic is worth a bit of friendly fire), the uttermost lie to oneself that has been committed by the suicide bomber, the cowardly lies of nations like the US who are too afraid to be of any help, the sanctimonious lies of the religious Jews in the Settlements who are exempt from military duty, the convenient masquerade of measured responsible policy in European nations that are addicted to Russian and Arab oil, the two-faced bland lies of the Arab nations that would be happy to see Israel do their dirty work for them, the malignant lies of the Jew-haters and the Arab-haters, the half-truths and prevarications of the diplomats, the shocked hypocrisy of the highbrow press, the “moral equivalence” lie by apologists for the terrorists and separatists… The only people who are not lying, it sometimes seems, are the most evil of all–the jihadis of ISIS, which is sincerely committed to bringing about hell on earth and doesn’t care who knows it.

Really a merry cavalcade. But they are shitting on something that I love and honor, which is language, the sacred material of poetry.

More on the Wealth Tax

Friday, 27 June 2014, 9:05 | Category : Uncategorized
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A couple of postscripts to the last post, to try to answer the question why it would be such a bad thing for money to lose part of its meaning as naming the difference between the benefits provided to the public by the possessor of the money, and the benefits received by the possessor from the public at large.

Going back to Steve Jobs, it is clear to me that when I bought his products (with the exception of the Newton!) I was getting very much the better of the deal. I didn’t exactly cheat him, but the extent to which they have transformed my life in a mostly beneficial way far outweighs whatever benefits in terms of teaching, writing, and so on that my money names. Part of the reason why this imbalance didn’t impoverish him (and reduce back to peasant famine conditions the Chinese urban workers he employed) is the use of money itself, with all its necessary adjuncts such as banks, fraud laws, and so on. If my iPhone used the technology of ENIAC,IBM’s early computer, it would weigh around five million tons, take up around 300 million square feet of floor space, and cost about 67 billion dollars, by my estimate, for its memory and processor alone. The change this represents, the staggering increase in human welfare, was driven by the fungibility and stability of money and its role of naming and providing knowledge to the marketplace.

If money were to lose its meaning–by widespread theft, corruption, state or private currency manipulation, sumptuary laws, legally-permitted rent-seeking, or high levels of taxation–then that benefit would be lost. And the wealth that Piketty hopes would be shared would simply go elsewhere, to a sounder currency–as it does in any country where vendors at borders buy and sell hard currency. And if all national currencies would lose their naming value, then the wealth would go into something else, far less fungible and available for use by the many–airline miles, precious metals, real estate, bitcoin, works of art from Sotheby’s, or class markers like the accent one gets in a finishing school. Wealth would then become sequestered and the velocity of its exchange would be slowed, resulting in ossified sociopolitical structures. Arguably, the feudal systems of Europe, and its present persistent class systems, were precisely the result of a flight from the Roman Denarius because of its misuse.

A sensible international inheritance tax would avoid many of these problems, it seems to me. The only bad effect might be to diminish the sense of duty one has to one’s ancestors, and to render less reliable the extent to which any person could represent, stand for, or be the agent of another.

What Piketty Leaves Out

Thursday, 26 June 2014, 13:09 | Category : Uncategorized
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The more money a very rich person has, the smaller the percentage of his or her wealth such a person can actually spend and consume. You can’t eat a hundred meals at once or drive a hundred cars at once or get a hundred PhDs. So the wealth has to go somewhere, i.e. to other people in one form or another, as wages, investment capital, or lower bank interest rates. Even if you just hide your money under the bed, that constitutes an interest-free loan to the Treasury and to us, the people. In other words, rich people are already paying a wealth tax, i.e. all the capital they did not manage to destroy by consuming it.

If justice were to be served in terms of reward for services rendered, someone like Steve Jobs should have been able to consume a million times as much stuff–clothes, entertainment, information, food, etc–as the average person. But he probably couldn’t consume much more than about ten times as much. What he did for others was so much more valuable (in terms of the demand) than what others could do for him that it would have been hard for him to find anything equal to it for himself to consume. Maybe he could look at lots of great works of art, but the rest of us do have museums. Maybe he mightn’t be as stressed as someone working hard at a repetitive job. But like all humans, he had plenty of stress already, like dying of cancer.

A world wealth tax would be a bad idea, because money is an illocutionary act or performative statement, in this case an act of naming. An amount of money is a name for the amount by which the bearer of the money has done more good for other people (in their opinion) than they have done for him or her. A wealth tax is a way of falsifying that act of naming, as if a meter or a pound or a liter or a degree of temperature were by law bigger or smaller for rich people than for poor ones, or as if, having been taxed at say 50% by the government just for being rich, every dollar of his represents twice as much benefit to others and half as much benefit to himself as does the poor man’s dollar.

Where Piketty may have a point might be with inheritance taxes. I certainly owe Steve Jobs much more money than I have ever spent on Apple products, but I don’t feel that I owe his heirs anything at all. I am willing to concede some transferred obligation to them because of my respect for his will, but not much. And as for their heirs, very little at all. I think the obligation implied by money, let’s say, is not very transferable to a representative or beneficiary. So an inheritance tax would actually reinforce the illocutionary force of money, rather than damaging it.

Maybe Obama Should Go to Tehran

Thursday, 26 June 2014, 12:59 | Category : Uncategorized
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Maybe President Obama should take a leaf out of Nixon’s book and go to Iran. That would really dish Putin, put Iran in charge of our mess in the Middle East, and get Iraq off our hands. It would also mean supporting an imperfect but fairly stable democracy rather than having to choose either military dictatorships like Egypt and Syria, or fanatical proto-theocracies like ISIS and the Taliban. Iran could pay for the privilege of having its own sphere of influence by recognizing Israel.

An Exciting Symposium on JFK and Dallas

Tuesday, 15 October 2013, 10:54 | Category : Uncategorized
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I’m going to be participating with the likes of Jim Lehrer, Richard Rodriguez, Lee Cullum, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Krys Boyd and other luminaries in a very promising day-long symposium in Dallas on November 2. It will be held in the Southside Ballroom (1135 S. Lamar, Dallas), 10am-4:30 pm. The basic focus will be on the assassination and its aftermath, through the lens of tragedy, in the Greek and Shakespearean sense.

Are You Stupid?

Thursday, 18 July 2013, 9:37 | Category : Uncategorized
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My brilliant friend Mihai Nadin has a new book, Are You Stupid? (, that promises some fireworks.

Epic Is In Print

At last my big book on the epics of the world is out: EPIC: FORM, CONTENT, AND HISTORY. Transaction Publishers have done a nice job with it. Virgil Nemoianu, literary scholar extraordinaire and past President of the International Comparative Literature Associations, says “it is the best study ever composed about this foundational literary genre” and Robin Fox, one of our leading evolutionary anthropologists, calls it “a tribal encyclopedia for latter-day tribesmen.” It can be found here.

Poems from the Galapagos

Tuesday, 31 July 2012, 9:44 | Category : Uncategorized
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A Voyage to the Encantadas
Frederick Turner

On the March

Old travelers can never quite distinguish
The little death of parting from the great.
What am I doing, crossing half the world
Again, as if I weren’t sixty-eight?

I played in bombed-out houses as a boy,
Remember sirens from the V-1 blitz.
Those wars are now just ancient history;
Waking these days, I feel I’ve lost my wits.

My father was a true adventurer.
In Africa I rode his shoulders, smelt
The Dad-smell of his hair—and that was when
I found that I could write down what I felt.

My mother was a whaler in her ‘eighties,
Out on the ice, with the Inupiat;
And here I’m quaking like an anxious lover,
Or what we used to call a scaredy-cat.

And now my own companion is my son,
A marathoner, and an army vet.
If that great parting comes, what could be better
Than on the old march, and without regret?

The Seventh Continent

In 1943 I first saw Europe,
Then Africa in 1951.
And ten years later, North America
Blazed on the ocean with the setting sun.

Asia was next, first tragic Palestine,
And then, in time, the greater Orient.
I saw the dawn break on Mount Taranaki;
One more hour now, my life’s last continent.

I want to love this planet through and through,
Before the time comes when I take my leave;
I saw its curvature today, a world of blue,
A loveliness I never could conceive.

The Altars of Quito

Now Cotopaxi glimmers over rows
Of tailfins in this brilliant Quito light.
What can I say about this high-perched city
Whose air, drawn thirstily, is thin and bright

As those empyreans of the altarpiece
That blaze forever beyond saint and cross?
How to convey this flash of opposites,
The perfect middle, source, and terminus,

Compacted of the Moors, the Quechua, and Spain,
The Holy Roman Empire, and the hopes
Of all those new republics, and the dreams
Of Incas, mad hidalgos, crafty popes?

Some places must commemorate extremes,
Where humans come up stark against the edge,
Where we can scarcely breathe, where hot and chill
We shake in fever on this cosmic ledge.

The Abundant Tree

I wake at anchor in this bird-flocked cove.
It’s sixty years since I was given to see
Dawn on Ascension Island turn to milk,
Rose, lemon, pastel, all that fresh-made sea.

Did Darwin feel that ancient human chill
Of strange delight, after so many shores?
–Or rediscover what the genes all knew
Already, in their many metaphors

Of multibranching cactus, portulaca,
In lineages of iguana, seal,
Great tortoise, finch, and sea lion barking there,
Each species-vision vying to be real?

What in the vision of that nine-year-old
That I was then, survived to catch me now?
What essence was it in the branched nerve-cells
Could live and breed so long, and if so, how?


Death, also, was a part of Darwin’s view.
If each life is a branch on a great tree,
Then death is but a pruning, a release,
To open up the species, set it free.

Upon the white beach of that pleasant bay,
The sea lions, careless of our feet, slept still,
Fed fat with fish that had in turn been gorged
On smaller fish, fresh from their feast of krill.

And each time there’s a kill, the killers live
Lives that are richer still with love and mind:
The sea lions sing and cuddle, fight and play,
And make a being of another kind.

Should I, then, know my coming end to be
The place where my mind’s flesh will be a feast
For something sweeter, of more love, than me,
A transmigration—or a gift, at least?


Beneath me was a turtle, cruising on.
I flew in water bluer than the sky.
This thing so clumsy, primitive on land,
Became a gliding angel in the sea.

Mammals (Blood Kin)

Swimming with sea lions by the reef I see
That once upon a time our furry mother
Nursed a warm brood: one pup gave rise to me,
And one, who liked the water, to my brother.

The Paradise Myth

The strange story of Doctor Ritter and
His lover Dora Stauch makes me think twice.
With steel false teeth in place of real ones
They set out to return to Paradise.

They gardened, nude, beside their ferny caves,
That look out over trees, lagoons, and sea.
And others came then, seeking to be healed
Of all the pain of our humanity.

And then the Baroness, with her two lovers,
Arrived in Eden, armed with a revolver,
In riding boots, and smoking a cigar.
The stories differ now that it’s all over,

But murders surely happened, poisoned deaths,
Starvation, loss at sea, madness and pain:
We can’t go back, the Fall must always happen,
We can’t go back to Paradise again.

He Fathers Forth

Ben shepherds me, with tacit gentleness,
Makes sure I don’t get parted from the rest.
I see myself, the old eccentric poet,
Who won’t be ruled by somebody’s behest.

Perhaps he likes in me (as I in him)
The spontaneity of who we are.
And if there’s a creator of this all,
Maybe he’s given every shell and star

The same gift, that of shared and self-creation,
So the iguanas learned to swim, the finches
Grew beaks to eat the cactuses and seeds,
And tortoises put on their endless inches.

My dear and I did not create our son:
It was the very process, liberty
Itself; that I now see, as Goethe did,
As love, that rich and ever-changing sea.

On the Move

Cloud-shadows drift across these vast
Volcanic slopes where no-one dwells. No eye
Of man can see the bud-tip swell, the nest
The warbler builds beneath the deep blue sky.

The waves as always rise in white-foam rhyme
Upon the basalt cliffs. Process persists,
Though real change just takes its own sweet time.
Each thing has one test, whether it exists.

Why do we love the absence of ourselves?
Why must our paradise be abnegation?
Is it that we are formed such by extinction,
And given being by eradication?

The God of the Iguanas

On the black basalt beaches’ rocks and sand
Before the blinding radiance of the sun
A thousand lava-black iguanas stand
Half–raised upon their forefeet, all as one.

Their stone-mailed faces, with dull half-closed eyes,
Ecstatic in a mild reptilian grin,
Worship their god’s diurnal fall and rise
As the long tides go slowly out and in.

Each black tail is the shadow of its crest.
They do not move. No membrane flicks across
Their pupils. Some have climbed upon the rest
To focus on their fiery terminus.

I stand before them, their announced messiah,
Arms raised, a preacher, for a photograph
That may go viral if it catches fire;
But they ignore me, and we should not laugh.

Crossing the Line

The sun goes down on the unseen equator.
Here human math is strangely actual.
Mind is immanent in the universe.
Creation keeps its logic in its fall.

The View Point

As seeing makes me be, so being seen
Is an event in the world’s history.
Back in the mainland now, we stand between
The land air and the moist air of the sea,

An immense crater filled with shifting mist
Before us, and a dry hillside behind.
A chilly gust now parts the dim white curtain,
Revealing far below a shadow-land

Of tiny fields and farms, all gentle green,
Hiatus of two worlds, where a strange third
Emerges at the throat of the great fire
That birthed these mountains with its molten word.

The crater’s shell is an enormous ear
That cups the sound. We hear a young cock crow
Fully a mile away and a mile down.
A woman calls a boy, it’s time to go.

The mist billows, that strange world disappears,
Though still it softly speaks, and suddenly
Another valley from another time
Reshapes its being in my memory.