My brilliant friend Mihai Nadin has a new book, Are You Stupid? ( www.areyoustupid.us), that promises some fireworks.
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.
A Voyage to the Encantadas
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.
The prizewinning Egyptian poet Sayed Gouda has translated my poem “The New Nile: Homage to the Egyptian Revolution” into Arabic. It can be found on p. 29 of the current issue of Tanja, the leading Egyptian cultural journal (http://www.aladabia.net/pdf/pdf41.pdf or http://www.aladabia.net/pdf41/). Also on Gouda’s own excellent English-language website, http://www.arabicnadwah.com/englishpoets/turner-nile-En-Ar.htm. Here is the poem in English:
The New Nile
Homage to the Egyptian Revolution
When Egypt fed the world with corn,
It sucked the breast-milk of the Nile;
The Pharaoh’s power, the Roman guile
Drank from that plenteous horn.
The new Nile is a Nile of light,
The world’s bright screens, the cellphone’s glow;
The fertile information-flow
Makes fires in the night.
The new Nile is a Nile of tears,
Of mourning for her children who,
Dying in giving, overthrew
The tyranny of years.
The new Nile flows with liberty,
For today tyrants everywhere
Shake in their boots with doubt and fear
They will be swept to sea.
Can anyone suggest a journal or magazine that might be interested in publishing a review of Julia Budenz’s great poem The Gardens of Flora Baum?
Also, I’d like to review Joseph Salemi’s brilliant and scorchingly satirical new book of poetry, Steel Masks.
My brilliant friend Mihai Nadin asked me a question the other day: TIME IS NOT AN INDEPENDENT VARIABLE—what does it mean? It is a new
topic, and I am deeply interested in what it might mean.
Here is my reply:
I think it may be an elegant way of saying that time is not Newton’s
absolute neutral untouchable Euclidean space-like medium, but is to an
extent a property of objects and actions. Time is generated
(presumably in different ways) by quantum events, atoms, molecules,
living organisms, and mental entities. Time so generated in turn
constitutes a medium constraining events and objects in it, but it is
itself malleable by the emergent properties and self-organizing
affordances provided by the evolutionary process (for instance,
emergent qualities such as wetness, trophic biological regimes, and
the human capacity for performative utterances that make themselves
true by the statement of them). In other words, time evolves in
tandem with the evolution of of its contents. Or possibly, the form
of time is its contents, or, to be more precise, is the most
parsimonious running compromise of all the temporal umwelts that make
up its contents. This all comes out of J. T. Fraser’s work.
I was typing out for a friend an old poem of mine from about 1970, in that prehistoric predigital era, and I liked it and thought I’d put it up on the blog. It was in Counter-Terra (Christopher’s Books, 1978).
The Wind People
Their faces are the skeins of air that we
sometimes perceive to finger across a flag or sheet;
their bodies, that which fills a tree
when it is wrought by their possession, throws
about its limbs as if distraught.
And they are like the catspaws of the fire,
and they are simple-minded in their time;
often their quarrels by coincidence
catch in the splinters of a human fate
and pull us willy-nilly to the grave or flame.
Lovers, quite often, capture by mistake
within a kiss, a wind-person by the hem
and then the breath that each one breathes
is the trapped and unknowing spirit of another being.
It’s this that scares a lover oftentime.
The wind people inhabit wars and shores.
It’s they who form the whistle of the shell,
for they are fascinated by all forms of spirals
and love to lie along the horns of shells.
They’re angered, though, by bangs and bells.
Especially in Fall the wind people come by.
They think that we are only swifter forms of trees. To them
the tender flesh of thigh and breast is hard as stone.
In these last months
I’ve become not much different from they.
A year ago I felt a ticking in my eye
whenever wind was round.
Investigating this phenomenon I found
A veil of colors in the air so faint it was
Not so much sight as sound.
At first I could not tell the boundary
Between one windperson and another. Now
I’ve even named them, though their names are secret.
I wondered whether they had anything to do with prayer:
But they come neither out of heaven nor hell.
–And now I know their shapes in whirling sand;
I’ve grown to recognize their smell
(like hills of bitter snow) and see
in turns of my own madness their many-fingered hand
weaving their versions of eternity.
The Ilium Press says that the real physical book can now be obtained here.
At last my epic poem THE NEW WORLD is in print again. Ilium Press has reprinted it in a beautiful edition, with a new foreword. The publisher is offering a free sample here. The book is available through Amazon here. It can be downloaded on Kindle now and will soon be available in physical print.
Ilium Press will also be reprinting my GENESIS: AN EPIC POEM in the next few weeks.
There is a myth that we as a species have moved from having an edenic and arcadian gift exchange economy to a cold and corrupt market economy. As a myth it has its uses; as a fact it will not fly. Archeologists and physical anthropologists now find trading practices among the earliest humans nearly 200,000 years ago; we were always buying, selling, hiring, trucking and bartering. And economists tell us that even in today’s advanced industrial economies the amount of value that is transferred by gift is greater than the amount transferred by market exchanges. This may sound counter-intuitive until we reflect that gift includes the free services rendered by parents to their children, husbands and wives to each other, friends to friends, hobbyists to their community, and the bequests of the dying to their heirs.
We have plenty of theory about markets, since Locke and Smith and their ilk. There is some theory about gift exchange in traditional tribal societies (Marcel Mauss, for instance), but very little until now about the economic, moral, social, political, ecological, aesthetic, and spiritual implications of today’s gift economy in advanced societies like the United States.
Until now. An interesting online publication, Conversations on Philanthropy, has just been launched. Take a look.