Gro Dahle

I bend, cringe. I am less than a normal
person. I am a child. Less than a child. I am
an ape. I am a dog. Less than a dog. A cat.
A rabbit. I am a turtle. A frog. No, less than a frog. A grasshopper. A
…………….beetle. I am a
wood louse that hides beneath a bench. From there I cry: please. I cry
…………….please as
loud as I can.


It’s a little dusty in the room. And light flickers on
the wall from a passing car. Imagine if I could strip
off my body. Just strip off my body. Hang
it in the closet with the winter coats. I am so
tired. I am so tired. And the tabletop is a pond with
leaves on it. Deep at the bottom, I see a fish swimming.
The shadow of a movement just softer than thought.

Read more in Little Star Weekly

Gro Dahle’s Hundred Thousand Hours caused a sensation in Norway upon its publication in 1996 for its intimacy and its candor about the dark emotions of domestic life—sound familiar? Those Norwegians! Now it is available in English translation from Ugly Duckling Presse and we offer a little tour of its dark secrets this week in Little Star Weekly.

Translated by Rebecca Wadlinger

Gro Dahle is the author of twelve books of poems in her native Norwegian. Rebecca Wadlinger is a poet and translator from the Norwegian.

 

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P is for Poetry, a definition of sorts from Edward Hirsch

POETRY     An inexplicable (though not incomprehensible) event in language; an experience through words. Jorge Luis Borges believed that “poetry is something that cannot be defined without oversimplifying it. It would be like attempting to define the color yellow, love, the fall of leaves in autumn.” Even Samuel Johnson maintained, “To circumscribe poetry by a definition will only show the narrowness of the definer.”

Poetry is a human fundamental, like music. It predates literacy and precedes prose in all literatures. There has probably never been a culture without it, yet no one knows precisely what it is. The word poesie entered the English language in the fourteenth century and begat poesy (as in Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy,” ca. 1582) and posy, a motto in verse. Poetrie (from the Latin poetria) entered fourteenth-century English vocabulary and evolved into our poetry. The Greek word poiesis means “making.” The fact that the oldest term for the poet means “maker” suggests that a poem is constructed.

Poets (and others) have made many attempts over the centuries to account for poetry, an ancient and necessary instrument of our humanity:

Dante’s treatise on vernacular poetry, De vulgari eloquentia, suggests that around 1300, poetry was typically conceived of as a species of eloquence.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) said that poetry is “a representing, counterfetting, a figuring foorth: to speak metaphorically: a speaking picture: with this end, to teach and delight.”

Ben Jonson (1572–1637) referred to the art of poetry as “the craft of making.”

The baroque Jesuit poet Tomasso Ceva (1649–1737) said, “Poetry is a dream dreamed in the presence of reason” …

Read more in Little Star Weekly

From Edward Hirsch’s new handbook, A Poet’s Glossary.

Edward Hirsch is the author of eight books of poems, most recently The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, and four books of prose. He is the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

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Excerpted from A Poet‘s Glossary by Edward Hirsch. Copyright © 2014 by Edward Hirsch. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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Welcome Derek Walcott!

Derek Walcott is arriving in New York for a week of readings, and we wanted to mark the occasion by rounding up all we have had to offer of his work over the years, for your delectation:

• Poems in Issue #1

• Translation of a Christmas Poem by Joseph Brodsky

• Performance of his play, Moon-Child, at the American Academy in Rome, with Walcott playing the narrator

• Memoir of Walcott and Brodsky by Melissa Green

• Little Star panel at AWP 2013 with Derek Walcott and Glyn Maxwell, unrecorded except for this moment

• “The Sisters of St. Joseph” (1957) with a comment by Glyn Maxwell, in Little Star Weekly, January 24, 2014

and this week in Little Star Weekly, a selection from Moon-Child.

We encourage locals to grab this chance to hear him at the Y, or at Queens College, or at Medgar Evers College, and everyone else to dip into this capacious new collection.

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Piano Stories, by Felisberto Hernández

My stories have no logical structures. Even the consciousness undeviatingly watching over them is unknown to me. At a given moment I think a plant is about to be born in some corner of me. Aware of something strange going on, I begin to watch for it, sensing that it may have artistic promise. I would be happy if the idea weren’t a complete loss. But I can only watch and wait, indefinitely: I don’t know how to nurture the plant or make it bloom. All I have is the feeling or hope that it will grow leaves of poetry or of something that could become poetry when seen by certain eyes. I must take care that it does not occupy too much space or try to be beautiful or intense, helping it to become only what it was meant to be … 

Read more in Little Star Weekly

This week in Little Star Weekly we feature the Piano Stories of Felisberto Hernández. Hernández was born in Uruguay in 1902 and began at age fifteen to play the piano for silent movies. By adulthood he was an itinerate musician and raconteur, scribbling stories in hotels and basements as he toured the provincial concert halls and upholstered living rooms of Argentina and Uruguay. As Calvino tells us, “What really unleashes [his] imagination are the unexpected invitations that admit the shy pianist behind the doors of mysterious houses, lonely quintas inhabited by rich, eccentric characters, women full of secrets and neuroses.” Though he died penniless and nearly invisible in 1964, his work was eventually collected and came to be cherished by Calvino, García Márquez, Cortázar, and Bolaño. Michael Hofmann has called him “a loopier, vegetarian Kafka, inhabiting his maze of personal baroque.”

New Directions has recovered a long-out-of-print edition of Hernandez’s stories and publishes it with introductions by Francine Prose and Calvino.

Read an interview here with the Quay Brothers, about their recent stop-motion film based on a Hernandez story.

(The stories’ translator Luis Harss has also translated Sor Juana’s Dream and is the author of several books, including Mystical Dreamers, published this month.)

 

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Marcelle Sauvegeot, “Laissez-moi”

A woman travels on a train from Paris to a sanatorium to be treated for tuberculosis. She is regretting leaving behind her lover; she doubts him. When she arrives she receives a letter: He is leaving her and marrying another woman. She ruthlessly studies their love, its exaltation, and the seeds of its destruction that always resided in her invisibility to him:

Wherever I was, you were within me. You placed yourself in the way of my feelings. They were sad because you weren’t there. I tried to preserve them in all their detail, to be able to bring them to you almost raw. Did you never sense the passion I put into trying to bring them to life for you? I thought about keeping you with me all the time so you could feel what I felt, so that nothing of my experience would occur in your absence: the glint of the sun in my eyes, the posture of my body in a dance … And I became impatient if I felt myself flourishing when you weren’t there […] I searched for words intense enough to make you taste my joy and give you the desire to come with me. But you quickly stopped listening to me and took on a somber look.

A literature teacher and friend to artists and poets in Paris, Marcelle Sauvageot died at the age of thirty-three in a sanatorium in Davos in January, 1934. She had written a single work, called alternatively Laissez-moi and Commentaire, in the form of a letter to a departing lover. It is was published obscurely after her death, but was admired by her circle of surrealist friends and has since been rediscovered in France for its clarity, passion, emotional precision, and spirit of indominable vitality: the speaker will not pity herself, will not regard her life as anything but a quest to be pursued on her own terms to the highest ends. It was recently released by Ugly Duckling Presse in Christine Schwartz Hartley and Anna Moschavakis’s translation.

Read more in Little Star Weekly

Read Monica Carter in Three Percent, on why Commentary: A Tale should receive this year’s Best Translated Book Award (with apologies for borrowing her present tense).

Christine Schwartz Hartley is a an art, architecture, and design writer and former editor of Art + Auction. Anna Moschovakis is  is the author of two books of poems, I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone  and You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake (winner of the James Laughlin Award). She has translated the work of Michaux, Gauthier, Cendrars, Cossery, Ernaux, and Simenon.

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Sohrab Sepehri

This week in Little Star Weekly we feature a poem from the Persian of Sohrab Sepehri.

Tonight I will say farewell.

I have spoken to my neighbors through the wide-open window
but don’t understand what they are talking about.

Sohrab Sepehri was born in 1928 in Kashan, Iran, and was trained as a painter. In the mid-sixties he resigned a government position in travelled extensively in China, Japan, and India, developing a deep interest in Buddhism and Hindu philosophy, and devoting himself thereafter  to painting and poetry. This encounter with eastern meditative traditions converged in his work with an affinity for mystical Sufism. He followed Nima YoushijAhmad Shamlou, and other poets of the time in moving away from traditional Iranian forms toward an unrhymed, unmetered “New Poetry,” which departed from the courtly traditions of Persian verse, embraced colloquial language and everyday experience, and conversed with European modernism. The result was a deeply personal, meditative verse that was disdained by the leftist intellectuals of his own generation but has been rediscovered by young contemporary Iranians seeking more personal freedoms and rejecting dogmatic authoritarianism. His work shares with the Buddhist poetry of China and Japan an attentive stillness and reverence for the natural world.

Boa Editions recently brought out a selected poems, The Oasis of the Now, translated by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. In Sepehri’s lovely poem, “Calling for You,” the speaker harkens to a call that is at once a summons to earthly and inner travel.

Read more in Little Star Weekly this week

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Max Jacob Extravaganza!

In February 1912, the newly fledged Futurist painters (Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, and Gino Severini—those who had signed the first two Futurist manifestos of painting), led by the poet and publicist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, had held their first Parisian exhibit, at the Galerie Bernheim, provoking several tart articles by Apollinaire. The tiresome jockeying for the lead in the avant-garde intensified, stimulated by the Futurists’ brashness. The Italians were only weak imitators of Picasso and Derain, Apollinaire declared in L’Intransigeant; in Le Petit Bleu he quoted their claim “to have taken the lead in the movement of European painting,” and replied, “It’s idiotic…

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One hardly dares pronounce a judgment on such stupidity.” A few months before, Ardengo Soffici had written to Picasso from Florence to announce the birth of the journal Lacerba. Soffici had come to blows with the Futurists two years earlier when Boccioni, Marinetti, and several friends took the train from Milan to Florence to punch Soffici, whom they had never met, as he sat in a café, in retaliation for his criticism of Futurism in the august Florentine journal La Voce. But in the course of explaining themselves and arguing esthetics at the police station where they’d been dragged in front of the mystified commissioner, they had found surprising common ground. Now Soffici and his old collaborator Giovanni Papini had quit La Voce and joined forces with Marinetti in launching Lacerba, meant to lead a cultural revolution in Italy. (It was named for a work by the fourteenth-century writer Cecco d’Ascoli, L’Acerba, The Bitter One, an attack on Dante.) Full of fire and brimstone, Lacerba maintained a contradictory stance toward French art, on the one hand attacking it violently and asserting Futurist supremacy, on the other publishing writers in French (like Jacob and Apollinaire) and constantly referring to French writers, artists, and theories. The awkward fact was, Modernism had begun in France. (Marinetti had never lived for any extended period in France, but had been educated in French schools in Alexandria, while Soffici had lived for years in Paris, knew all the contemporary artists there, and contributed to the major avant-garde journals.)

Jacob was only too happy to accept Soffici’s invitation. He wrote in April 1913, from Céret, and again several times in May, sending verse and prose poems, and securing Kahnweiler’s permission to reprint excerpts from Saint Matorel. His first publication in Lacerba, the poem “Établissement d’une communauté au Brésil” (Establishment of a Commune in Brazil), followed a couple of pages later by a drawing by Picasso, appeared in mid-June, just as Picasso and Jacob were taking a quick trip to Spain to see bullfights. The poem, in fanciful rhyming alexandrine couplets, is one of Jacob’s most accessible, an allegory of a utopian Catholic commune in the jungle in Brazil, where even wild animals become mystically tame before the settlement is massacred by savages. So, concludes the poem’s speaker, he had been living a life of innocent love, piety, and prayer,

“Mais le rire cruel, les soucis qu’on m’impose,
L’argent et l’opinion, la bêtise d’autrui,
Ont fait de moi le dur bourgeois qui signe ici.”

 (But cruel laugher, the worries heaped on me,
Money and scandal and others’ stupidity
Have turned me into the hard bourgeois whose name you see.)

Not one of Jacob’s best poems, it reveals another version of the mythic self he was evolving; the sense of himself as hardened (dur) would reappear a few years later in Monsieur Dur, the hero of his novel Filibuth

In the same issue as Jacob’s poem, Marinetti published an important statement of Futurist poetics, “L’immaginazione senza fili & le parole in libertà” (The Imagination Untrammeled and Words at Liberty). It restated and amplified his literary manifesto of the previous year. Already in “Manifesto tecnico della letteratura futurista” in May 1912, using the phrase parole in libertà (words at liberty), which both Apollinaire and Jacob would take up, Marinetti had called for the destruction of syntax (in syntactically correct sentences); the suppression of adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions; the elimination of the “I”; the replacement of intelligence by “divine intuition”; and the creation of “the mechanical man with interchangeable parts.” Now, in Lacerba, he let loose a torrent of Futurist demands: for acceleration, novelty, destruction of the past and glorification of the machine, in the service of “a violent and dynamic lyricism.” 

In this hysterical context, Soffici presented Max Jacob. He conveys with three piquant anecdotes the already stylized persona of Max Jacob the mystical harlequin of Montmartre. One of the tales, slightly modified from André Billy’s gossip in Le Cri de Paris, relates the Virgin’s scolding Max; She appears outside the Basilica of Sacré Coeur and declares: “Oh! My poor Max, what a loser you are.” Jacob must have run around the cafés of Montmartre entertaining listeners with versions of this encounter. Soffici’s second story mythologizes what must have been, at origin, a humiliating experience and probably not an uncommon one for a homosexual who found his partners by cruising. Jacob was arrested one evening as he emerged from the Café de l’Ermitage, Soffici relates, and dragged down to the police station where the commissioner, “a rigid man,” berated him for “the vices everyone knew him to indulge.” The commissioner was preparing to throw him in jail when the poet opened his mouth. “We never found out exactly what he said, but his words were so sweet, so celestial, full of such virtue, that the commissioner and even his constables had their hearts softened, tears poured down their faces, and they fell to their knees at his feet to adore him.” (As many of his friends intimated, Jacob had his run-ins with the police from time to time, though in the turn-and-turn-about world of official hypocrisy and actual sexual mores, he often found his sexual partners in the ranks of the police. In the short story “Le Haschischin,” Pierre Reverdy describes Jacob’s being locked up overnight and released in the morning: “In the daylight he examined his crumpled clothes, his hat smeared with mud, and rather satisfied after all he methodically assembled his impressions of a first night spent in jail/ So far from Heaven.”) Soffici concluded his introduction with one of Jacob’s fantastical autobiographical sketches of the sort he provided to Kahnweiler for the Matorel series, claiming to have been a sailor before becoming a Parisian writer and dandy…

Read more in Little Star #5 (2014)

Little Star lights up the grey month of March with a Max Jacob extravaganza! Throw away your tiresome time-clocking self and recover your inner harlequin dandy! In Little Star Weekly for the next three weeks we offer the opening chapters of Rosanna Warren’s epochal biography-in-progress, which follows Max’s flight from his stuffy Breton childhood to impoverished  bohemian Paris, where, scraping together a living, he found Picasso, Apollinaire, Kabbalism, opium, sexual adventure, and, not least, a new way of writing poetry, with a shifting band of prankster-geniuses who were remaking art for a new century.

We celebrate Warren’s aborning biography, complete with her own peerless translations, with a special Little Star twofer!

Buy two Little Stars for the price of one and follow Max’s adventures from the turn of the century to the brink of war—then order another chapter just now appearing in the March issue Literary Imagination.

Complete your immersion with a bunch of other recent books and exhibitions orbiting around the period:

A volume of translations of Jacob-confrere Pierre Reverdy, from NYRB’s new poetry series, including translations by Rosanna Warren

Elsewhere, a great anthology of international avant-garde poetry of journeying, very much in tune with the poetry of this period and citing Picasso and Apollinaire as guiding spirits, edited by Eliot Weinberger, from the indispensable Open Letter Books

A translation of Apollinaire’s Bestiary by poet X. J. Kennedy

Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim Museum, now through September 1

The Steins Collect, a 2012 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the collecting and patronage of Gertrude Stein, her brothers, and her sister-in-law, with catalogue. Read Michael Kimmelman on the exhibition and catalogue in The New York Review of Books  

 

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Pushkin Hills, by Sergei Dovlatov

At noon we pulled into Luga. We stopped at the station square and the tour guide adjusted her tone from a lofty to an earthier one:

“There to the left are the facilities…”

My neighbor pricked up his ears.

“You mean the restroom?”

He nagged me the entire trip: “A bleaching agent, six letters? An endangered artiodactyl? An Austrian downhill skier?”

The tourists exited onto a sunlit square. The driver slammed the door shut and crouched by the radiator.

The station: a dingy yellow building with columns, a clock tower and flickering neon letters, faded by the sun…

I cut across the vestibule with its newspaper stand and massive cement urns and instinctively sought out a café.

“Through the waiter,” grumbled the woman at the counter. A bottle opener dangled on her fallen bosom.

I sat by the door. A waiter with tremendous felted sideburns materialized a minute later.

“What’s your pleasure?”

“My pleasure,” I said, “is for everyone to be kind, humble, and courteous.”

The waiter, having had his fill of life’s diversity, said nothing.

“My pleasure is half a glass of vodka, a beer, and two sandwiches.”

“What kind?”

“Sausage, I guess.”

I got out a pack of cigarettes and lit up. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. “Better not drop the glass…” And just then two refined old ladies sat down at the next table. They looked like they were from our bus.

The waiter brought a small carafe, a bottle of beer, and two chocolates.

“The sandwiches are all gone,” he announced with a note of false tragedy.

I paid up. I lifted the glass and put it down right away. My hands shook like an epileptic’s. The old ladies looked me over with distaste. I attempted a smile:

“Look at me with love!”

The ladies shuddered and changed tables. I heard some muffled interjections of disapproval.

To hell with them, I thought. I steadied the glass with both hands and drained it. Then I wrestled out the sweet.

I began to feel better. That deceptive feeling of bliss was setting in. I stuffed the beer in my pocket and stood up, nearly knocking over the chair. A Duralumin armchair, to be precise. The old ladies continued to scrutinize me with apprehension.

I stepped onto the square. Its walls were covered with warped plywood billboards. The drawings promised mountains of meat, wool, eggs, and various unmentionables in the not-too-distant future.

The men were smoking by the side of the bus. The women were noisily taking their seats. The tour guide was eating an ice cream in the shade. I approached her:

“Let’s get acquainted.”

“Aurora,” she said, extending a sticky hand.

“And I am,” I said, “Borealis.”

The girl didn’t take offence.

“Everyone makes fun of my name. I’m used to it… What’s wrong with you? You’re all red!”

“I assure you, it’s only on the outside. On the inside I’m a constitutional democrat.”

“No, really, are you unwell?”

“I drink too much… Would you like a beer?”

“Why do you drink?” she asked.

What could I say? 

Read more in Little Star Weekly

 

This week in our mobile app Little Star Weekly we conclude our three-part journey into Pushkin Hills, the only hitherto untranslated novel of Russian prose master, Sergei Dovlatov. In it our Soviet-era hero somewhat perversely endeavors to rebuild his life by enlisting as a tour guide in the remote family seat of his illustrious forbear. The requirements of literary earnestness and national self-love are perhaps too much for our delicate hero, caricaturing as they do his own exhausted literary commitments and his feeble stand against his estranged wife’s impending emigration.

In his day Dovlatov was famous in America and unpublishable in his home country; the situation had for some years been reversed until Counterpoint Press began a welcome revival, culminating in this fresh translation by the author’s daughter, who herself enjoys a bit of a cameo in the story.

Read more of Pushkin Hills in Little Star Weekly; join the translator, Katherine Dovlatov, with Keith Gessen, Matt Taibbi, and others for a book launch at PowerHouse Arena on March 19; read Little Star’s own Barry Yourgrau on Dovlatov in Paris Review Daily; read some more Dovlatov here on Little Star online; and by all means pick up the book.

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Photograph by Nina Alovert
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Kantan, a story in English from a Noh drama, by Paul Griffiths

Kantan was a little place to pass through, perhaps to spend the night, at the inn a pleasant woman ran by herself. She had just the one guest room, with an alcove where the visitor could lie down, head resting on a pillow left by someone calling himself a magician.

Whoever sleeps on this pillow, he had told her, will see, as in a dream, the whole of the past and the entirety of what is to come. Farewell.

That was some time ago. Right now she could see there was someone coming up the path; a student by the look of him.

She opened the door: Come in, she said.

I am travelling in search of the truth, he said, to find how I should conduct my life. I go from one thing to another. All useless, so far. But I have heard there is a person of great wisdom some way to the north of here, and now I need a night’s lodging before I continue to what may be the end of my quest. One night, if you have a room.

I have, she said. You may sleep here …

Read more in Little Star Weekly

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Paul Griffiths is a critic of new and recent music.  His Modern Music and After is an essential work on music since 1945. He has also written the libretto of Elliot Carter’s only opera, What Next?, and a novel, let me tell you. This story appears in his collection of eleven stories rendered in English from Japanese Noh dramas, the 22nd of the Cahiers Series from the American University in Paris.

We are very happy to be featuring work from the beautiful Cahiers series, published by the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University in Paris, in collaboration with Sylph Editions. The Cahiers are elegantly designed pamphlets that come out every few months on the theme, roughly, of writing, translation, and the intersection of the two. A list of the whole dazzling series can be found here; they can be ordered in the US from the University of Chicago Press here.

I admit to having been puzzled, when I first saw them, as to what they were. Is this new work or old? Writing in English published in Paris? Book or magazine? Now, to me, this evasion of our decreasingly relevant publishing categories is among the Cahiers’ charms. They land in that lovely territory between books and ephemera that is being reclaimed in such interesting ways in our not-so-virtual-as-all-that era. Another fascinating feature of the Cahiers is that they are the work of a growing culture of young international critics and writers who are reviving the legacy of international modernism for English. As our commercial literary culture shelters in literary safety, this crowd is ferreting out exciting, genre-defying work beyond our borders, mostly in Latin America and on the European peripheries, but also in the middle and far east, Africa, and beyond. The same names pop up in the Cahiers and its associated projects at the American University as we see, for example, in The Quarterly Conversation, The White Review, Music & Literature, Dalkey Archive, Open Letter, Two Lines Press, San Francisco’s Center for the Art of Translation, Frisch & Co., and New Vessel Press. Freed by the unraveled economies of electronic publishing, these critic-writer-editors are creating a dynamic new border-crossing literary world.

The Cahier authors are testimony to this. How often do we think of Lydia Davis and Paul Muldoon as cohorts in translation, and what that means about their place in literature in English? Elfriede Jelinek writes a play about Walser, indeed librettist Paul Griffiths transcribes, as it were, Noh drama as stories in English. What I love about the Cahiers way of thinking is that it’s not eat-your-vegetables advocacy for literature in translation but a bold, invigorating vision for literature in all languages, a hungry aesthetic engine for our time.

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One poem by Derek Walcott: Glyn Maxwell

Most poets, when they leaf back through their work to select the Best of Themselves, tend to want grown-ups around: poems from not so long ago, poems that show what the poet came to, what he or she did when he or she grew up, poems they can talk to. The awkward youngsters in the wrong styles are not so welcome at the party. Who are they? Why are they dressed like that? What on earth would they have to say? What could they possibly know?

So early poems can have a hard time getting admitted, once a consensus has formed around a handful of the brilliant young Chosen—in the case of Walcott there’s “As John to Patmos,” “Prelude,” “A City’s Death By Fire,” glimpses of great talent in a restless teenager. They were me becoming me. Their one-time colleagues have fallen away. One can find them, but it takes a while. So the first among many joys of being asked to make the choices for a new Selected Walcott was to find some poems of very long ago that thought they had been forgotten.

I chose “The Sisters of Saint Joseph” from Poems (1957)…

Read more in Little Star Weekly

Glyn Maxwell edited The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013, out this month. His most recent book of poems is Pluto. His book On Poetry was published in the United States last autumn. Derek Walcott is the author of fourteen books of poems, numerous plays, and a book of essays. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992.

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