Issues arriving in December! Order Little Star #6 now at our special pre-publication price here.
Issues arriving in December! Order Little Star #6 now at our special pre-publication price here.
As we launch our new web-wide version of Little Star Weekly, we also welcome Chris Sharp as our new curator for Little Star Gallery. Chris will be selecting an image for each issue of the Weekly for the six next months, following his predecessors painters Mary Weatherford and John Zinsser. (Our web-based version also makes it easy to see all their work in a big panorama. Mary was our gallerist for most of 2013, and John for last summer. A painting by Mary graces our the free Almanac we posted this week.)
Chris co-directs, with the artist Martin Soto Climent, the Mexico City project space, Lulu, and is editor-at-large of Kaleidoscope magazine. He has curated exhibitions at Le Crédac, Ivry; Musée du Château des ducs du Wurtemburg, Montbeliard; The 12th Swiss Sculpture Exhibition in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland; Parc St. Léger, Pougues-les-Eaux; La Fondazione Giuliani, Rome; the Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg; Office Baroque gallery, Antwerp; Studio Voltaire, London; Nomas Foundation, Rome; Museum Tinguely, Basel; The Swiss Institute, New York; the Serpentine Gallery; Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne; La générale en manufacture, Sèvres; Culturgest, Porto; MoCAD, Detroit; Dunkers Kulterhus, Helsingborg, and others .
Lulu, Mexico City
Photo: Pablo León de la Barro
from “Dispatch: Mexico,” by Pablo León de la Barro, Guggenheim blog, February 24, 2014
We are very thrilled to announce that our little app, Little Star Weekly, which has been bringing a dollop of poetry and prose every Friday to the pockets of readerly iPhone and iPad users, is about to go web-wide and become visible on any internet enabled device!
On Friday we’ll post a new web page for the Weekly where this week’s issue and all our previous issues will be available through subscriptions that will work both on the web and on our app for iOS. Create a free log-in there to read bonus issues and a free Weekly Special from our archive.
• Our first issue will have a cri de coeur from Jamaica Kincaid about the Ferguson riots and a sneak peak at a work-in-progress by Kathryn Davis.
• We’ll make the brand-new Denis Johnson that we’ve been running for the last three weeks FREE to those who log in on our first day.
• We’ll send our first twenty-five web subscribers a free copy of our print issue, Little Star #5 (2014).
We are so happy to be able to spread our app to new readers and hope you will join us on this new adventure! We would like to thank our very ingenious collaborators, 29th Street Publishing and Tugboat Yards, who are working to find ways to make vital reading experiences digitally sustainable and to support writers and publishers in the electronic age.
This week in Little Star Weekly we feature some little prose poems from a new City Lights book, Thousand Times Broken: Three Books, which translates for the first time, with illustrations from his graphic works, three books by Henri Michaux from the period of his experimentations with mescaline. As Gilian Conoley observes in her introduction: “Both Michaux’s writing and his visual art are marked by two obsessions: to delve into darker, shadowy realms of human consciousness, and to record what he saw in the most scrupulous, exacting fashion he could muster.”
Digging around for news of Michaux we discovered that his publishers are a veritable who’s who of the independent press. An unclassifiable writer who eschewed his apparent affinities with symbolism and any public attention, he’s been a favorite of generations of the avant garde, first published in English translation in the fifties by The Paris Review (on peyote, alongside Terry Southern and Thornton Wilder) and New Directions (travels in Asia, in Sylvia Beach’s translation). City Lights joined the fray in the sixties, with Miserable Miracle, the first of his books on his experimentation with mescaline, in a translation by Louise Varèse (wife of the composer Edgard Varèse) which New York Review Books recently reissued with an introduction by Octavio Paz. City Lights returns with this new collection of three books composed between 1956 and 1959: Peace in the Breaking, Watchtowers on Targets, and 400 Men on the Cross. Little Star Weekly offers three poems from Watchtowers on Targets.
New from City Lights: Thousand Times Broken, translated by Gillian Conoley. Consists of: Peace in the Breaking, Watchtowers on Targets (an automatic collaboration with surrealist painter Roberto Matta), and 400 Men on the Cross (a contemplation of the loss of Catholic faith)
Ideogrammic ink drawings accompany Michaux’s poetic explorations of animals, humans, and the origins of language, translated by Richard Seiburth, published by Archipelago Books
Exploration, in drawings and text, of Michaux’s encounter with mescaline, first published in 1956, translated by Louise Varese, with an introduction by Octavio Paz, reissued by New York Review Books
Prose poem on Chinese ideograms, translated by Gustaf Sobin, published by New Directions. New Directions also publishes Barbarians in Asia (also translated by Sylvia Beach) and a Selected Writings, translated by Richard Ellman and drawn from Michaux’s collection of prose poems, L’Espace du Dedans.
Comprehensive selection, translated by David Ball, published by the University of California
Translated by Robin Magowan, published by Northwestern University Press
In a career replete with self-reinventions, our beloved contributing editor Melissa Green has recast herself as a forager of images, both from her native oceanfront landscape of the Winthrop, Massachusetts, and her own capacious imagination. We feature one in Little Star Weekly this week. It’s called “The Marsh at Evening.” Think of it as you read these lines from her memoir of Joseph Brodsky (and Derek Walcott), in the current issue of Parnassus:
[Joseph] would take my arm and we would walk along the marshes and beaches in the little web of my neighborhood. I knew his heart was bad and kept the pace slow, as if it were my long skirts that mandated our slackened gait and not his heart’s need. The first time we came over the crest of Winthrop Boulevard, with its wide expanse of Atlantic and equally wide sky, he was suddenly exhilarated. He kept repeating how much he loved it, how it reminded him of the Black Sea, where his father had taken him when he was young. As we walked slowly down to the seawall, his face was radiant. He was happy and free. He wanted me to look for a house for him in Winthrop, he was so taken with it. It was one of the many ideas and impulses that hopped madly through his mind. I did later look for a house for him in a desultory fashion, but by then his focus was elsewhere and the subject was not brought up again.
We walked to the end of the boulevard and, since it was low tide, squelched out on the wet sand to sit on the breakwaters, which are under an especially busy route into Logan Airport two miles away. The planes flew low as they crossed over the rocks where we sat, and Joseph, like an American boy, talked about making model airplanes as a child, hanging them from the ceiling of his room among gold foil stars in constellations.
He’d wanted to be a pilot, he said, but his bad heart had made it impossible. As the tide came in, he pointed enthusiastically at every plane, naming the carrier, the type of engine and fuselage, the country in which the plane had been built. That day, it was as if there had been no Siege of Leningrad, no Stalin, no exile. There was only the moment a plane came close and Joseph shaded his joyous face with his hand to discern its make. The light turned ruddy, and we had to splash through the rising tide to dry sand, but that day he was free and young, had never been hurt, and had the good strong heart of a ten-year-old boy, mad for flight.
Melissa Green is the author of The Squanicook Eclogues, Fifty-two, and Color Is the Suffering of Light, a memoir. Her selected poems will be published next year by Arrowsmith Press.
Denis Johnson is a writer we have long coveted for Little Star. We had a piece of his elegaic short novel Train Dreams on our blog way back in 2011 and have been longing for more. Now the stars have aligned and his new novel beckons just as we ready ourselves for the new web-based version of our mobile app Little Star Weekly! The web variant will make our app and its whole backlist available to all on Android devices and indeed any internet-enabled gadget. It will arrive on November 7, and we’ll set the stage this month with a serenade in three parts from Johnson’s dark new anti-adventure novel, The Laughing Monsters, coming in November from FSG.
When I rejoined my comrades with another drink in my hand Michael said, “I was just explaining to Davidia—we’ll head north tomorrow for Newada Mountain. Or in that direction. North. Stanley explored there, looking for the source of the Nile.”
“More will be revealed,” I said. I was aware that lately I was drinking more than ever in my life. I couldn’t relax or feel like myself in this region without banging myself on the head with something.
“My village is there,” he told us, “in sight of Newada Mountain.” Next he said, “I’m being communicated with by a spirit. Something or someone is contacting me. No, I’m serious. The spirits of my ancestors, the spirits of my village.”
“What village? I thought you were some sort of—what the hell are you, originally, Michael? Some sort of displaced Congolese.”
“I am exactly that. A displaced Congolese. And now,” he said, “I’m going to replace myself.” He took hold of Davidia’s arm as if to hand her to me in evidence. “She’s along because I’m going to marry her. I want her to meet my parents.”
“I thought your parents were dead.”
“Not my real parents. My other parents. The whole village is one family. Everyone is my mother and father and brother and sister. If the feeling is right, we’ll be married right then and there.”
Davidia said, “Wait—if the feeling is right?”
“If you’re welcome. And I’m sure you’ll be welcomed. The bride is always welcome, unless she comes from a clan devoted to stealing.”
“And I’ll be your best man,” I said.
“Nobody’s going to cook me and eat me, I hope.”
“People don’t quite understand,” Michael said, and he may have been serious, “to be eaten pays a compliment to your power.”
Read more in Little Star Weekly
Denis Johnson is the author of eight novels, one novella, one book of short stories, three collections of poetry, two collections of plays, and one book of reportage. These passages come from his new book, The Laughing Monsters, out next month from FSG.
I got to know Bismarck early on, he was on the sewing machine or next to the sewing machine, on which my mother was patching the bed linen for one of those Pomeranian nobleman’s estates, Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz, and Bismarck was cast in bronze, he was wearing boots that were one hundred percent bronze, he was holding a bronze saber in his bronze hand, and on his bronze head perched an eagle, also bronze. On his bronze helmet. The figure looked as though it meant to intimidate me. Bismarck weighed a lot, and I wasn’t able to lift him at the time, but if a grown man had got hold of him, then he would have been able to kill another man with him. The lord of Lossin or Wunkenhagen or the lord of Demeritz didn’t do that. He had a shovel that he used to kill people with. But the lords of Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz didn’t use their shovels either. They used their staff. They had always had staffs on Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz, and even after the suspension of feudalism and the abolition of the authority of the lord of the manor, people continued to be born on Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz or people were brought to those places for the purpose of killing others. That estate called Lossin, or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz, it had belonged to my mother, or to my mother’s mother, I was never quite sure, I had heard it too many times and it was told me or not told me in too many different ways, and it was true that my mother did sewing work on those estates, but she couldn’t sew, even though people seemed to take it for granted that a woman in her position would be able to sew, and so she stitched the sheets of rough peasant linen for a mark a day, and the great perk was that she was able to take me with her. And so I sat under the sewing machine, and watched my mother’s feet as they operated the treadle, and the sheets passed under the needle of the sewing machine, and they rose and fell and rose and fell before my eyes like the curtains of a stage on which Bismarck appeared, or where an actor playing the part of Bismarck stepped forward to thank the audience for their applause. Cast in bronze, and torchlight processions of students passed out of the town to the Bismarck Tower, where they dropped their burning torches at the feet of the monument, and Bismarck, he too in bronze, stood firm-footed on his pedestal, firm-faced, firm-expressioned, firm-fleshed, all bronze, in the flickering torchlight in the darkness, and nothing could go wrong again. At that time, sitting under the sewing machine next to my mother’s feet moving the wheel, it never occurred to me that the bedsheets that rose and fell and flickered before my eyes might have been likened to funeral shrouds or to the white flags of defeat.
I was a witness, but I wasn’t there in person … that was my fortress sure, my camp, my mattressphere. Kitty-cornered was my mother’s bed, it was empty on that evening or at that hour, later on my mother’s bed was always occupied, and then it was always empty, until finally I sold it or it was lost. Then there was the table where we sat when my mother was home and there was something to eat, or where we sat when there was nothing to eat and we just sat, and sometimes we talked to each other and sometimes we didn’t, and we got along or we didn’t. In the cupboard was the bread when we had bread, and my mother kept the cupboard locked when she went out to work, so that I wouldn’t eat up the bread, but I had a nail that I’d bent and managed to flatten, and with that nail I was able to pick the useless lock of the old cupboard, and I took the bread and bit off a piece, and I stuffed myself on the bread, and it choked me because I knew it would make my mother cry. An electric bulb hung from braided wires under the low ceiling, it burned feebly and wasn’t supposed to burn at all, I was supposed to be either asleep or sitting in the dark, if I switched the light on I was wasting it, my mother wasn’t able to cut it off, but then a man came with a bill and he cut it off, and then we both sat in the dark, my mother and me, and a woman who had come to us had called the bulb naked, a naked bulb, and I liked that, a naked bulb, naked light, they put up a tent, outside was the town, the enemy, the enemy in the field, there were wolves and hunters in the forest, and on the ripped wool blanket I wrapped myself in were books from all the libraries of the town and the university, and Pastor Koch, seeing the books, said, you’re not a Bolshevist are you, and I looked at him, and I counted the duelling scars in his feisty red face, and I asked him what’s a Bolshevist, and I looked through him perhaps as far as Russia, and then there were the magazines our town was avid for, and that I delivered for Alt’s bookstore, and they had names like The Bachelor, Color Magazine, and New Life. They could have taught me what life is. I never learned.
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Translated by Michael Hofmann
Wolfgang Koeppen was born in 1906 in the German Baltic town of Griefswald and lived on the Baltic Coast until 1920, when he began many years of travels, finally settling in Munich. He was an outspoken liberal journalist as well as a novelist. These reminiscences form a part of Youth, a volume of autobiographical writings soon to be published by The Dalkey Archive. Koeppen’s novels Death in Rome, The Hothouse, and A Sad Affair were also translated by Michael Hofmann.
Michael Hofmann has published six books of poetry, most recently his selected poems in 2009, and some sixty books in translation from the German. At Little Star we have published his translations of Durs Grunbein and Gottfried Benn. His selected essays will be published by FSG this winter.
When I went to Brazil in 1965 as a Fulbright Lecturer I had read only a few of Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poems in translations done either by Elizabeth Bishop or John Nist. I did not know Portuguese and thought quite erroneously it turned out that I would learn it by doing my own translations. I had no idea how difficult that would be. Relying heavily on my limited knowledge of Spanish, I was eventually able to read it, but never able to speak it with anything approaching fluency. My translations had to be checked for accuracy by someone who actually knew the language
I had recently turned thirty one and was still very much a young poet. Translation for me was a kind of apprenticeship. Problems in syntax, say, or lineation could be confronted more objectively, more concretely than they could in the working out of my own poems, which I had wanted to manifest the same degree of mastery exhibited on the one hand in the poems of Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, and James Merrill and on the other by the poems of James Wright or W. S. Merwin or by the slightly older Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and Theodore Roethke. Style was all; content would take care of itself, at least that’s what I thought then.
But as important to me as those poets were, they existed primarily as models of prosodic self-assurance. Rarely did I feel with them the deep connection I felt when reading the fiction of Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Borges, Landolfi, or Buzzati. Their fictive worlds were ones that I wished I had created. Their fantastic distortions, their freedom from domestic convention, their endlessly inventive projections of the uncanny, not only fascinated me, they seemed more related to my own inner experience, my own psychic disturbances and pleasures.
Esthetically, I seemed lost somewhere between the polish of the American poets and the peculiarity of the European prose writers. I hoped that a year in Rio might help me to find a direction of my own …
Read more in Little Star Weekly, this week and next
This week we celebrate the arrival of Mark Strand’s capacious new Collected Poems with two little reflections by Strand in Little Star Weekly, one on forgetting a poem and the other on not forgetting one.
The poem Strand declined to forget was by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the Brazilian modernist pioneer who, in Strand’s story, found the point of convergence between the young poet’s sense of craft and his more disruptive impulses—a point occupied by a stone in a road. In Brazil Strand befriended Elizabeth Bishop, who was translating Drummond, but he was too shy to ask for an introduction, and Bishop allowed as how Drummond was pretty shy himself.
Strand went on nevertheless to publish two volumes of translations of Drummond, though he preferred Bishop’s, at least of this one unforgotten poem. These will be supplemented next summer by a new attempt, from Richard Zenith and FSG, called The Multitudinous Heart.
Collected Poems, by Mark Strand, just out from Knopf
Looking for Poetry: Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Rafael Alberti and Songs from the Quechua, translated by Mark Strand
Souvenir of the Ancient World, by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translated by Mark Strand
Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry, edited and introduced by Elizabeth Bishop and Emanuel Brasil, and translated by various hands
Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems: A Bilingual Edition, by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translated by Richard Zenith, coming this summer from Farrar, Straus & Giroux
All at once, led by a curious intuition, his cousin
began to brake, using not only the pedals but also his feet, his knuckles,
and his facial expression, causing smoke to issue from his Polish-made sneakers
and a strange smell to rise into the air. They came to a halt. But though they had stopped,
within them their stomachs and duodena continued to hurtle onward,
their organs were still rushing ahead and their entire bodily system was still
moving in the direction of their appendix, scattering its concentrated wholeness
in form and state. They had come to a halt; but though they had stopped,
kinetic forces continued to roar within them and exit clamorously
from their anterior orifices and other frontal parts.
They had come to a halt, but the braking had damaged their facial skeletons
in such a way that veins the color of the ocean popped out on their foreheads,
along with multiple boils in volcanic shapes, while their eyes attained their gamma point,
causing significant problems for further conversation.
They had stopped in front of a tiny cottage with an exceedingly low fence
lost in the grass, beyond which grew stunted little trees.
The cousin, declaring that this was the place, jumped nimbly
out of the car, his sneakers still trailing considerable quantities of smoke,
and went up to the gate.
Translated by Bill Johnston
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We were amazed by Tomasz Rozycki’s modern-day epic Twelve Stations when we published a great chunk of it in Little Star #4 (2013). (Its book-length entirety is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.) Rozycki managed to sweep into one whole the tiny and domestic (the oddities of contemporary provincial Polish life, with their Soviet and imperial and rustic residues, the sleepy unfolding personalities in a multi-generational family, the wistfulness of the young person lingering over and losing patience with his childhood) and the elegant cadences of epic verse and their larger mythic and historical resonances. Twelve Stations is both fun and an utterly original development of modern verse.
He’ll be reading with us next Friday at our Little Star Poets’ Cafe (RSVP here) with another poet who mixes magic out of contemporary language and classical means, Glyn Maxwell. Both have, coincidentally, written modern-day epics of suburban late adolescence (Maxwell’s being Time’s Fool, in terza rima no less, from 2000).
We at Little Star offer as a next generation of verse magicians—after Heaney, Walcott, Milosz, Paz, Brodsky: Rozycki, Maxwell, and, to our ears, their German counterpart, Durs Grunbein.
Tomasz Rozycki was born in 1970 in the Polish town of Opole. He has published, in Polish, nine books of poetry and a translation of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés. Two volumes of his poems have appeared in English, The Forgotten Keys and The Colonies.
This passage is drawn from his book-length mock-epic poem, Twelve Stations, which received many awards in Poland including the Koscielski Foundation Prize. A long excerpt appeared in Little Star #4.It is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.
Bill Johnston is the translator of many works from the Polish. His translation of Wiesław Mysliwski’s Stone Upon Stone received the 2012 PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award for fiction of that year.
From the moment my mother came into dementia, time with her ran backwards. First the preceding day vanished from her memory, then the month before. In the outside world the dates followed one another in the usual order, but she paid no attention. In her apartment, late March regained its beginning, and then the page on the calendar had to be turned back again—it was the end of February. Since the regular course of time had been reversed, month by month she was losing years. First she forgot my sons, then she forgot my husband.
“Did you go for a walk with your daughter today?” asked the nurse who visited in the afternoons. “With who?” my mother asked, puzzled. “I never had a daughter.”
So she’d forgotten me as well. Which must mean we’d passed the midpoint of the 1950s. My mother could not stop there. We knew what would come next. Sooner or later we’d fall back to the end of the war. We would see the generals signing their peace treaties, the fireworks, the drunken soldiers.
But before that day came, she turned anxious. She had to go back to Mauthausen for something. For what? For whom, I should rather ask. She wanted to know if I would go there with her. By then I was her second cousin, though I had no idea what my name was. My mother knew my name for sure, but at that time she was not yet aware that I’d died in Auschwitz like the others. And so any question was possible. A journey to Mauthausen was not excluded, though it would probably require unimaginable exertions at the requisite offices with their huge gloomy waiting rooms. We were to search for a child in Mauthausen. But what child? Whose? She wasn’t exactly sure. And before we were ready to set off, she forgot everything. Finally the day of the liberation came and passed unnoticed, grey and cloudy. The generals, the fireworks, the drunken soldiers? We hadn’t seen them. There was nothing to celebrate. When you were traveling backwards in time, liberation led directly to the turmoil of war and occupation …
Translated by William Pierce
Read more in Little Star Weekly this week
Magdalena Tulli has written several novels (four of them available in English) and received a number of literary awards in her native Poland. Most recently, her novel In Red was published in Bill Johnston’s translation by Archipelago Books. She has also translated into Polish the works of Marcel Proust, Italo Calvino, and others. “Bronek” forms part of a volume of autobiographical stories recently published in Poland. William Pierce’s fiction has appeared in Granta, American Literary Review, and elsewhere. He is senior editor of Agni and has recently completed a novel, Heartwrap.