Archive for December, 2007

Lyrics to Genji

Genji, I dreamt the horse again last night. 
But this time I was riding it.
It was so dark, and my eyes stung.
The wind whipped through
the invisible trees.  It takes
a body to know the wind
is there, to know a horse
is under you.  So it was you,
I guess, that pressed against
my flanks, and it was you
who filled my ears with noise.
When I press back,
you have a shape to fill.
Genji, where will you go
when I am in the ground,
unless a tree grows from my mouth?

Adam Penna

Klezmatics Back in Rome!

guthrie mosaic The Klezmatics are coming back to Rome! So this is a reminder to all music lovers (at least those who happen to live in Rome) to get your tickets. The best group in America won a grammy with their last album, Wonder Wheel, a compilation of lesser known Woody Guthrie lyrics, which also happens to be their first album entirely in English. You can see a live performance here. Click here for details on the upcoming concert at the Auditorium.

The following observation has been attributed to Allen Ginsberg: “…if you’re able to listen to this music (the Klezmatics’) without seeing God you must be fucking blind.”

Mermaid’s Avenue

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the fast and slow folks meet,
Where the cold ones meet the hot ones
Just a block from Coney’s beach.
Mermaid Avenue that’s the place
Where the wolves and haybags chase
In big fur coats and bathing suits
They’re in the raggeldy race.

But there’s never been a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
No, I’ve never seen a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
I’ve seen hags and wags and witches;
And I’ve seen a shark or two
My five years that I’ve lived along
Old Mermaid’s Avenue

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the lox and bagles meet,
Where the hot dog meets the mustard
Where the sour meets the sweet;
Where the beer flows to the ocean
(Where the halvah meets the pickle)
Where the wine runs to the sea;
Why they call it Mermaid Avenue
That’s more than I can see.

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the saint and sinners meet;
Where the grey hair meets the wave curls
Where the cops don’t ever sleep;
Where they pay some cops to stop you
When you hit that Sea Gate gate;
Where them bulls along that wire fence
Scare the mermaids all away

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the sun and storm clouds meet;
Where the ocean meets that rockwall
Where the boardwalk meets the beach;
Where the prettiest of the maidulas
Leave their legprints in that sand
Just beneath our lovesoaked boardwalk
With the bravest of our lads.

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where all colors of goodfolks meet;
Where the smokefish meets the pretzel
Where the borscht sounds like the seas;
This is where hot Mexican Chili
Meets Chop Suey and meatballs sweet;
Mermaid Avenue she’s a nervous jerk
But, still, she’s hard to beat.

Woody Guthrie

Glatshteyn’s God

by ben shahn 


The inmost sense
of my sublimest words
turns my prayer imbecile.
Exalting You makes incense fill
the air with redolence
of idols.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

The least little flower
rejoices You more
than all six days
of Creation.
Evil’s inertia
brings You small care.
You lend us years
by the thousands,
then hide Your face.
The walls of our houses
drool gibberish.

We have yet to learn
the ABCs
of holiness.
How many myriad lives must we seize
before our thoughts can earn
even the footstool of Your favor.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

You do not terrify,
You have no malice.
Still You keep Your distance from us
who live in the profanation
of every moment.
The flash of eternity
in our nostrils
assures our ruin.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

Jacob Glatshteyn

Translated by Cynthia Ozick, from the Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse.


Words, puffs of expelled air
Against the fires of wars.    
  Who can hear
  The whispers of peace
Cannons, rockets, drowning out    
  Hushed reason.

We praise the wounded soldier,
For that suffices
To justify the mangled bodies.
We mourn the dead in battle
Rescuing our bruised conscience
From the abyss of whys
Of our insane pastime.
Rush headlong,
Bettering our bombs
Improving our weapons,
Shed, while checking army contracts,
A superfluous tear
For those … less fortunate
Then conclude our business
And cheer on the troops.

A. de Paoli

The Miracle of Lazarus

 by edward moran
Emma Lazarus was America’s first great Jewish poet. Almost every American (and not only) has three lines of her poetry ingrained in their psyche, lines as well-known as the Constitution itself or the Ten Commandments. “Give me your tired, your poor…”, then fill in the blank. Just about anyone who has a high-school diploma knows that the next line welcomes Europe’s desperate “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But her verse does not stop there. John Hollander has recently edited a new volume of Lazarus’ poetry for the Library of America. Schocken Books has published Esther Schor’s biography of Lazarus in its Jewish Encounters series. Below is the original sonnet that is engraved in bronze at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Modern Rome’s Greatest Poet?

belliWe’re taking a breather to plug a couple of pieces of literary news. Just out online is the Fall 2007 issue of BigCityLit which contains my poem “Time Traveler”. In other news, this month’s edition of The American carries my interview with Mike Stocks about his recently published translation of the Roman poet G. G. Belli. This is the first new translation into English in over 25 years of this extraordinary–if too-often overlooked–poet whose massive opus of over 2000 sonnets paints an unparalleled picture of 19th century Rome and its people.

Here’s To You, Grace Paley

I came across a note from Nelly Kravitz the other day.
It came unbidden, not in its place.
Now what could Nelly Kravitz have ever known about Sue,
when Sue was young and hopeful still?
Before she became nerve-wracking Sara,
working mom, and elfin pack of dark hair, red lips,
who loved jitter-bugging before she turned bitter
and Baudelaire thereafter.
Nelly Kravitz from Detroit—they were college friends—
who met Sue again at a Grace Paley lecture.
Nelly Kravitz from Detroit, who was in Philly
between the end of June and mid-July
in the Year of Their Lord 2000, or 5761 since the Creation.
Nelly Kravitz who wrote notes plump with fear
that another piece of life had fallen, like flakes
of paint from walls begging for whitewash,
to become new again.
Nelly Kravitz who lived—once upon a time
and here’s to your memory if you are no longer with us—
at 9106 White Hall St.
In Detroit (did I tell you that?).
An address label on the envelope to tell me so
and an artful stamp bought
to adorn notes to far-flung friends—
because a late husband from a distant town
pried her from her roots.
That ‘s America, folks.
And now she wondered where have all the flowers gone
on Humane Society note-paper,
with a photo of three golden-eared beagles,
and a Wildlife Land Trust sticker on the other side,
with koala bears on a eucalyptus tree.
Nelly Kravitz loved animals.
With a phone number—313-567-2378–
would she answer after all these years?
Thank you, Nelly Kravitz, for coming out again.
Here’s to our joy at our one last meeting.
and that we were still alive that day
when Grace Paley—may she too rest in peace—spoke at the Y.

Lenore Rosenberg

Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."


December 2007
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