A Day For Posting About Spain (2nd Saturday of March 2014)

A Poem by Miguel Hernandez, translated from the Spanish by Don Share and published in the New York Review of Books, April 4, 2013

The poet and playwright Miguel Hernandez (1910 – 1942) was born into a peasant family in the province of Alicante in southeast Spain and died from tuberculosis in a prison hospital there at age thirty-one.  For much of his life he worked, like his father, as a shepherd.  As a soldier and cultural ambassador for the Republican Army during the Spanish civil war, Hernandez read his poems and plays on the radio and on the front lines.  When the war ended in 1939, he was arrested and sentenced to death (commuted to thirty years in prison).

Everything is Filled with You

Everything is filled with you,
and everything is filled with me;
the towns are full,
just as the cemeteries are full
of you, all the houses
are full of me, all the bodies.

I wander down streets losing
things I gather up again:
parts of my life
that have turned up from far away.

I wing myself toward agony,
I see myself dragging
through a doorway,
through a creation’s latent depths.

Everything is filled with me:
with something yours and memory
lost, yet found
again, at some other time.

A time left behind
decidedly black,
indelibly red,
golden on your body.

Pierced by your hair,
everything is filled with you,
with something I haven’t found,
but look for among your bones.

Quote of the Second Wednesday of February 2014: Rabindranath Tagore

Thinking about poetry this morning, and about the lecture last night at USF.  Saw Melissa Dale again.

Melissa is the Executive Director of the USF Center for the Pacific Rim and also an Assistant Professor at USF.  Decades ago — in 1991, to be exact — she was self’s student assistant in the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford.  Melissa took the picture of self that graces the back of self’s first book, Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila.  She lived on the East Coast for many years.

Eventually, Melissa and her two teen-aged daughters moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Life is so mysterious.  But self rejoiced at this chance to see her again.

The poem self is reading this morning is by Rabindranath Tagore.  It’s from Rabindranath Tagore:  Selected Poems, translated by William Radice (Penguin Modern Classics edition).  She doesn’t recall buying this book, so it was probably given to her by one of her friends.

The poem contrasts a young singer with an old, and resonates so much with self.

“Broken Song”

Kasinath the new young singer fills the hall with sound:
The seven notes dance in his throat like seven tame birds.
His voice is a sharp sword thrusting and slicing everywhere,
It darts like lightning — no knowing where it will go when.

He sets deadly traps for himself, then cuts them away:
The courtiers listen in amazement, give frequent gasps of praise.
Only the old king Pratap Ray sits like wood, unmoved.
Baraj Lal is the only singer he likes, all others leave him cold.
From childhood he has spent so long listening to him sing –
Rag Kafi during holi, cloud songs during the rains,
Songs for Durga at dawn in autumn, songs to bid her farewell –
His heart swelled when he heard them and his eyes swam with tears.
And on days when friends gathered and filled the hall
There were cowherds’ songs of Krishna, in rags Bhupali and Multan.

So many nights of wedding-festivity have passed in that royal house:
Servants dressed in red, hundreds of lamps alight:
The bridegroom sitting shyly in his finery and jewels,
Young friends teasing him and whispering in his ear:
Before him, singing rag Sahana, sits Baraj Lal.
The king’s heart is full of all those days and songs.
When he hears some other singer, he feels no chord inside,
No sudden magical awakening of memories of the past.
When Pratap Ray watches Kasinath he just sees his wagging head:
Tune after tune after tune, but none with any echo in the heart.

To fully appreciate the poem, self had to turn to the Glossary in the back of the book.

Holi, self learns, is “a Hindu spring and fertility festival, characterized by the joyous throwing of coloured powders and sprinkling of coloured liquid at people.”

There were some other interesting words in the glossary, words like:

Jambu:  “Large tree that sheds its leaves in January/February, has fragrant white flowers in March-May, and purplish black astringent fruit in June/July.”

Kacu:  “The taro, a coarse herbacious plant cultivated for its tubers”

Koel:  “A bird that is frequently called ‘cuckoo’ by translators but which is actually different from either the European cuckoo or the Indian cuckoo, though it belongs in the same family.”

Makara:  “Mythical sea monster, representing the Capricorn of the Hindu zodiac, with head and forelegs of a deer, and body and tail of a fish.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

USF Lecture on Translation, Tomorrow, Tuesday, 11 February 2014


A lecture by Andrea Lingenfelter

From Hall 115 – Berman Room

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014

5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Dr. Lingenfelter will talk about what she has learned in her life as a translator of poetry, fiction, and film subtitles.  Informed by decades of experience with different genres, she will address some of the issues that confront the translator — rhetoric, style, esthetics, sound and syntax, idioms, culture, audience, and ethics.  Drawing on her own work, Dr. Lingenfelter will explore some fundamental differences between poetry, prose, and spoken language that become striking when we translate them.

Free and Open to the Public.


Poem for the Day After New Year’s (2013)

Poem 53 of the One Hundred Poets (translation from the Japanese by Clay MacCauley)

written by Udaisho Michitsuna no Haha (937 – 995)

Sighing all alone,
Through the long watch of the night,
Till the break of day: –
Can you realize at all
What a tedious thing it is?

The poet was the daughter of Fujiwara no Motoyasu, and became the mother of the imperial commander Fujiwara no Michitsuna.  Self’s personal copy of the One Hundred Poets is the one published by George Braziller in 1989, and edited by Peter Morse.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Hokusai.  Here’s how Morse describes Hokusai’s illustration for Poem 53:

The woman has been awake, for her clothing is rumpled due to her restlessness.  She has come out on the porch with a lantern, presumably at dawn, to look for her missing husband.  We see a pipe and tobacco pouch resting on the pillow within the house, the sign of an absent man.  Around the corner of the house we can see a cistern and water dipper.

This figure of the lone woman appears several other times among Hokusai’s drawings . . .  She is always waiting for a man, a situation generally suggested by the poem.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Back Issue: The New York Review of Books

Every day for the last three days, self has been driving north — to Berkeley, to San Francisco.

BART went on strike on midnight, Friday.  The traffic has been horrible.

The 2nd annual Filipino American International Book Festival has wrapped.  Self went Saturday and Sunday.  It was exhilarating, but also a tad stressful.

So many books!  So little money!

It was grrrreat seeing:  Linda Nietes.  M. Evelina Galang.  Angela Narciso Torres.  Luisa Igloria.  Karen Llagas.  Cecilia Brainard (who moderated panels on two successive days).  Tony Robles & family.  Edwin Lozada.  Barbara Jane Reyes.  Oscar Bermeo.  Rashaan Alexis Meneses.  Penelope Flores.  Michelle Bautista.  Jean Vengua.  Gayle Romasanta.  Aileen Ibardaloza-Cassinetto.

Now, self must rest her weary and over-stimulated brain.

This evening, self discovered that Goldilocks is moving from their Westborough location, to some other place in South San Francisco.

In the September Vanity Fair is an article on the painter Balthus and his last muse, a girl who began modeling for him at 8.  It is rather shocking to see the painter’s Polaroids of this girl partially unclothed. But there was nothing at all prurious in his interest:  his wife and daughter were fully aware of this relationship.  To which self can only exclaim:  How very, very European! Such a level of tolerance would not be possible in America.

She decided to re-new her subscription to The New York Review of Books, for two more years.

In the issue of June 30, 2013 is a poem by Zbigniew Herbert, translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles.  Self only has time to replicate the first half:


In memory of Jean Améry


The torturers sleep soundly their dreams are rosy
good-natured genocides — foreign and home-grown
already forgiven by brief human memory
a gentle breeze turns the pages of family albums
the windows of the house open to August the shade of an

    apple-tree in bloom

under which a fine brood has gathered
grandfather’s open carriage an expedition to church
first communion mother’s first embrace
a campfire in a clearing and a starry sky
without omens or mysteries without an Apocalypse
so they sleep soundly their dreams are wholesome
full of food drink fleshy bodies of women
with whom they play erotic games in bushes in groves
and over it all floats a never-forgotten voice
a voice as pure as a spring innocent as an echo
singing of a boy who spied a rose on the heath

memory’s bell awakens no ghosts or nightmares
memory’s bell repeats its great absolution

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Currents: What Self Is Interested in Reading Now (19 October 2013)

  • a translation from the French by a writer whose name self encountered for the first time only a few hours ago:  Daniel Arsand.  The novel is Lovers.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (perhaps self’s favorite book of her childhood. Other than The Hobbit)
  • a book about the terrible things that happened in a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina:  Five Days at Memorial, by Katy Butler
  • a story collection by Tom Barbash:  Stay Up With Me
  • a memoir, by Amanda Lindhout, of what happened after she was kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia:  A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
  • A Thousand Pardons, a new novel from Jonathan Dee (Malcolm Gladwell recommended it in the By the Book interview)
  • Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis:  The Impossible Profession
  • James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity
  • Tim Parks’s 2011 memoir, Teach Us to Sit Still

(The list is made up of books reviewed in the September 8, 2013 and October 6, 2013 issues of The New York Times Book Review.)

Self is still on The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  Sometime in the near future, she’s going to switch gears.  She’s just added Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, to her reading list.  Let’s just hope she doesn’t wind up reading them during the Christmas holidays: it might result in the blog developing a rather schizophrenic feel.  Especially if she starts interspersing images of holiday festivity with images of human cruelty.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

In Honor of the Day: War Literature or Matters Related Thereto

Below, books self has recently read that touch on some aspect of war.  The list contains a mix of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction:

102 Minutes:  The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre

A Life in Secrets:  Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of World War II, by Sarah Helm

A Long, Long Way, by Sebastian Barry

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Dunkirk:  Fight to the Last Man, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt

Falling Through the Earth, by Danielle Trussoni

Homecoming, by Bernhard Schlink

Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Legacy of Ashes:  The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner

Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

Sepharad, by Antonio Muñoz Molina

The 9/11 Commission Final Report

The Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus

The Assault, by Harry Mulisch

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad

The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans

The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

Virgil’s The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles

Awesome Quote of the Third Saturday of August 2013

From Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry From the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar, Foreword by Carolyn Forché (W. W. Norton)

The Poet’s Voice

I don’t want freedom gram by gram, grain by grain.
I have to break this steel chain with my teeth!
I don’t want freedom as a drug, as a medicine,
I want it as the sun, as the earth, as the heavens!
Step, step aside, you invader!
I am the loud voice of this land!
I don’t need a puny spring,
I am thirsting for oceans!

Khalil Reza Uluturk, translated from the Azeri by Aynur H. Imecer

Self’s favorites: the first two and the last two lines! She should practice saying them aloud . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The New Yorker, 11 March 2013 (Briefly Noted)

(Dear blog readers will of course have noticed that the New Yorker in question dates from March 2013:  self’s backlog of unread journals and magazines is truly getting serious)

Without further ado, here are the four books in the Briefly Noted section, and the reasons self wants to read all of them:

The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne (Harper)

Self would read anything about Jane Austen.  Anything.  Even if it were something about her eating habits.  That said, here are the strengths of this particular biography:  “Byrne makes a strong case that earlier biographers misinterpreted as sincere letters lampooning heartbroken sentimentalism . . .  Byrne shirks chronological constraints, beginning each chapter with an object of special significance in the author’s life –  a shawl, a wooden lap desk –  on the premise that much of Austen’s fiction was ‘made real by a few carefully chosen things.’ “

Louis Agassiz, by Christoph Irmscher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Here we have a biography of a man who believed that “only whites were descended from Adam and Eve.”  Also, he was a fierce opponent of Darwinism.  Also, he was a Harvard professor.  Also, the biographer was his friend.  Also, also . . .  self is just curious to see how such a man deserves a biography.

Ten White Geese, by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Penguin)

The novel is about “an Emily Dickinson scholar” who “has moved from Amsterdam to live on a rented farm in rural Wales.  An abundance of physical description gives the novel a peculiar texture, but it moves rapidly along: a card from her husband arrives; a boy stumbles onto her property and stays; a small flock of geese disappear one by one.  But at the farm, her primary relationship is with Dickinson and her work, which tries ‘to hold back time, making it bearable and less lonely too perhaps, by capturing it in hundreds of poems.’ “

City of Angels, by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

“Billed as a novel, this work by one of the leading literary figures of East Germany is more like a journal — with a digressive, quotidian pace and recognizably autobiographical content.  In 1992-93, Wolf, who died in 2011, was a fellow at the Getty Center, and a narrator much like Wolf explores Los Angeles and mourns her lost country in the wake of Communism’s collapse . . .  Wolf uses the image of Freud’s overcoat as a metaphor for memory’s instability:  ‘the coat that keeps you warm but also hidden, that you have to turn inside out.’ “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Now Reading: THE LEOPARD, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

Self learned that The Leopard was di Lampedusa’s only book.  (Strange, the cover doesn’t say “Translated by,” though she is sure di Lampedusa wrote it in Italian. Turning to the inside title page, she finds that the translator is someone with the unlikely name of Archibald Colquhoun.  A Scot, perhaps?)

The book is marvelous.

The events unfold over a series of months in the year 1860.  It is about politics, but it’s also about families.  Again, self finds herself reading extraordinarily slowly:  she finds something to savor on every page.

In the excerpt below, the Prince and his wife have just had an argument over the fact that the young man they hoped would marry their daughter, Concetta, has confessed to being in love with someone else.  The Princess is furious and has to be bullied into silence by her husband.

“Enough!  What’s decided is decided.  Good night, Stella, my dear.”  He kissed his wife first on her forehead and then on her lips.  He lay down again and turned toward the wall.  The shadow of his recumbent form was projected on the silken wall like the silhouette of a mountain range on a blue horizon.

Stella lay back too, and as her right leg grazed the left leg of the Prince she felt consoled and proud at having for a husband a man so vital and so proud.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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