Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A New Review

Peter R. Emshwiller, author of Levels: The Host, has written a strong review for my novella, "All Roads Lead To Winter."

"I suppose one could properly classify the work as erotic science fiction, but that doesn't do it justice. It's much more than that. 'Erotic science fiction' brings to mind hackneyed stories of gleaming sex robots and amateur 'Bigfoot & the Bikini Babe' erotic fiction. This is nothing of the sort. It’s a story about loneliness, love, lust, and loss. About both connection and disconnection. Passion and regret... The erotica is masterfully handled, as is the rest of the tale.

"The character of Avdryana... is wonderfully drawn. Smart, sensual, and a bit scary. Like Thomas Bridge (our P.O.V. character) we can’t help but be captivated and charmed by her. Dialogue between the two of them is fun, real, and sharp (one suspects Dillon would do well writing screenplays), the story is peppered with cool details... and the science-fictional and political concepts at the foundation of the tale are quite thought provoking.

"I wanted to live a while longer in the vivid, clearly rendered, haunting world Dillon has created....

"Read it. You won’t be sorry."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ford Madox Ford on Vers Libre

Although I've never been attracted to "free verse," perhaps because I fell in love, as a child, with Shakespeare and the Jacobean dramatists, and love iambic pentameter to the point that I've dreamt of it, I have to respect this comment by Ford Madox Ford:

"The other day I wrote to a literary journal to protest against an editorial in which it had contemptuously dismissed a very beautiful volume of Vers Libre with the argument that emotion led one naturally to rhyme. I pointed out that the Book of Ruth was a work of emotion, and that it contained no rhyme....
"I am talking of the Jacobean translation merely as a literary achievement. And it has always appeared to me that most of the Psalms of David, the Books of Job and of Ruth, and some of the prophetic writings if, as has been my good fortune, you can read them with eyes and ears uncloyed by ecclesiastical chantings and customary dimnings -- just, in fact, as you might read Fitzgerald's adaptations from the Persian or Mr. Pound's from the Chinese -- these writings, then, in the English language, as they are printed, and without reference to the Hebrew original, present an unanswerable case for rhythmic expression of emotions. I do not say that they exclude metrical or rhymed expressions, merely that they present an unanswerable case for the existence of Vers Libre as a form."

-- Some Reminiscences, by Ford Madox Hueffer. E. P. Dutton and Company, New York, 1921.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Happened to the Grown-Ups?

James Goddard has challenged me to share a new poem on Facebook every day, for five days. I'll see what I can do!

Day One

Look at all these infants who run the planet Earth,
Who play with toys like Oil, and War, and Banks with extra girth.
They all believe in discipline, but only for the poor.
What happened to the grown-ups, those people we ignore?

The neoliberal sandbox is low on H2O.
The aquifers are baking dry. "But all we need is dough!
Invest in US dollars, and bonds with extra junk!"
What happened to the grown-ups? Without them, we are sunk.

"We have to spy on citizens to keep the public safe.
We have to take your privacy, and all the rights that chafe
Against our quest for enemies. The enemies are YOU."
What happened to the grown-ups? We need their point of view.

Another white-boy killer! "So let's take down a flag."
But surely racist attitudes mean more than this old rag?
The problem, here, is people, not fabric on a post.
What happened to the grown-ups? We need them now, the most.

Drones and bombs and weaponry to wipe out every life;
A foreign policy that seems designed to bolster strife.
A culture of extinction, with no funds for survival.
What happened to the grown-ups? I long for their revival.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

C is for Curses!

Leanne O'Rourke has put out a call for abecedarian verse on Facebook. It's a fun challenge, but I have to warn you: before you begin, type out every first letter, line by line... or else you might scccccccccrew things up, as I did:

As the decades flow, with each new year,
Being loses ground to childhood fear.
Calmly take the pulse of nervous blood;
Count each barricade against the flood;
Deem the shore a death-zone to be crossed,
Every naked pebble, something lost:
Final in its failure to support,
Ghostlike, any scaffold of the sort
Hung against the day when tides will burst
Inwards, foaming heralds of the worst.
Just when you begin to see the fire
Kindled for safe passage from the dire
Lashing of the leopard-surfaced waves,
Morning, with its maze-like architraves
Nullifies, with fog or spattered hail,
Open routes that might have been a trail,
Passages that might have led to land
Quickly. Now the desolated strand
Runs in streaming shadows far away.
Solar hints of any saving day
Topple into darkness.
Under skies
Very much like oceanic trenches,
Weather brings a set of claws that clenches
Xylophagously against the barque
You had set asail, back in the year
Zero, in your flight from childhood fear.

My second attempt went wrong in a different way!

Ask yourself: do any of your fears
Balk at their exposure? As it nears,
Consciousness might quiver at the sight,
Delay a confrontation, or take flight
Endlessly, to shun that fearful touch.

Forces of our heritage conspire
(Genes and culture, childhood, and the dire
Honesty that tears the self apart
Intimately, with a lover's art),
Justify a cowardly retreat,
Kill off any effort to unseat
Living fears that claim a living toll.
Many of our dreads are in control
Negatively, and by secret means
Obstruct our sight with parasitic screens.

Politicians know this. All their lies
Quicken fears against the stranger's rise,
Reap the crops of prejudice that grow
Suddenly, when economic woe
Turns against the public good. Beware!
Under fear, our liberties are lost;
Verities of ancient days are tossed
Witlessly aside. We lose our past.
Xenophobic policies are cast.
Yellow seeps into our varied flags
Zealously, and tears them into rags.

Today is just not my day for abecedarian rhyming couplets in acephalous iambic pentameter. Blarb.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nulle vie et nul bruit

Once again, I've tried to capture the mood of Leconte de Lisle. One of his most famous poems, "Les Éléphants," challenged my English not because of any difficulty, but because of its clarity and simplicity. He can take a stark phrase like, "Nulle vie et nul bruit," and make it work. I don't have that skill.

The Elephants,
by Leconte de Lisle.

The red sand is like a sea without limit, one that sags on its bed and burns in silence. A motionless undulation fills the horizon with brass-coloured vapours where man lives.

No life and no strife. All the sated lions sleep at the back of the far-off den one hundred leagues away, and the giraffe sips from blue fountains, there, under the date palms known to the panthers.

Not a bird passes by to whisk his wings in the dense air, where a huge sun travels. Every now and then, some boa, warmed in sleep, undulates a skin of glistening scale.

The inflamed space burns under clear skies. But while everything sleeps in dismal solitude, the wrinkled elephants, rugged and slow voyagers, cross the desert reaches to the region of their birth.

From a point on the horizon, like brown masses they move, raising dust, and without deviation from the straightest path, crush the dunes under their steady tread.

The one who takes the lead is an old chief. His body is chapped like bark that time has gnawed upon and worn down; his head is like a rock, and the arch of his backbone bends powerfully to every slightest effort.

Never slowing, never hastening, he guides to a definite aim his dusty companions. Trailing behind them a sandy furrow, the massive pilgrims follow their patriarch.

With ears fanned out, with trunks in mouths, they walk with eyelids shut. Their bellies throb and smolder; their sweat rises like mist into the blazing air, into the buzzing of a thousand raging flies.

But what does it matter -- thirst, voracious flies, the sun that broils their black and wrinkled hides? As they march, they dream of abandoned regions, of fig tree forests that sheltered them once.

They will see again the river that escaped from high hills, where the hippos bellow and swim; where, pallid by moonlight, they cast their shadows ahead of them and cracked the reeds whenever they went down to drink.

And so, with courage and a slow pace, they pass like a black line over the sand; and the desert takes back its immobility when their heavy passage is erased on the limitless horizon.

* * * * * *

Les Éléphants

Le sable rouge est comme une mer sans limite,
Et qui flambe, muette, affaissée en son lit.
Une ondulation immobile remplit
L'horizon aux vapeurs de cuivre où l'homme habite.

Nulle vie et nul bruit. Tous les lions repus
Dorment au fond de l'antre éloigné de cent lieues,
Et la girafe boit dans les fontaines bleues,
Là-bas, sous les dattiers des panthères connus.

Pas un oiseau ne passe en fouettant de son aile
L'air épais, où circule un immense soleil.
Parfois quelque boa, chauffé dans son sommeil,
Fait onduler son dos dont l'écaille étincelle.

Tel l'espace enflammé brûle sous les cieux clairs.
Mais, tandis que tout dort aux mornes solitudes,
Lés éléphants rugueux, voyageurs lents et rudes,
Vont au pays natal à travers les déserts.

D'un point de l'horizon, comme des masses brunes,
Ils viennent, soulevant la poussière, et l'on voit,
Pour ne point dévier du chemin le plus droit,
Sous leur pied large et sûr crouler au loin les dunes.

Celui qui tient la tête est un vieux chef. Son corps
Est gercé comme un tronc que le temps ronge et mine;
Sa tête est comme un roc, et l'arc de son échine
Se voûte puissamment à ses moindres efforts.

Sans ralentir jamais et sans hâter sa marche,
Il guide au but certain ses compagnons poudreux;
Et, creusant par derrière un sillon sablonneux,
Les pèlerins massifs suivent leur patriarche.

L'oreille en éventail, la trompe entre les dents,
Ils cheminent, l'oeil clos. Leur ventre bat et fume,
Et leur sueur dans l'air embrasé monte en brume;
Et bourdonnent autour mille insectes ardents.

Mais qu'importent la soif et la mouche vorace,
Et le soleil cuisant leur dos noir et plissé?
Ils rêvent en marchant du pays délaissé,
Des forêts de figuiers où s'abrita leur race.

Ils reverront le fleuve échappé des grands monts,
Où nage en mugissant l'hippopotame énorme,
Où, blanchis par la lune et projetant leur forme,
Ils descendaient pour boire en écrasant les joncs.

Aussi, pleins de courage et de lenteur, ils passent
Comme une ligne noire, au sable illimité;
Et le désert reprend son immobilité
Quand les lourds voyageurs à l'horizon s'effacent.

Alphonse Lemerre, Paris, sans date (1889?).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Le Vent froid de la Nuit

Once again, I've done what I could to translate a poem by Leconte de Lisle.

The Cold Wind of the Night.

The cold wind of the night blows through the branches, and snaps, now and then, the dried-up twigs. The snow, on the plain where the dead are buried, like a shroud extends white folds into the distance.

In a black line at the edge of the strait horizon, a long flight of crows passes by and grazes the earth; and a few dogs, digging into an isolated mound, clink bones against bones in the tough grass.

I hear the dead moan under the crumpled grass. O pale inhabitants of a night without awakening, what bitter memory, troubling your sleep, escapes in heavy sobs from your frozen lips?

Forget, forget! Your hearts have been consumed; of blood and heat your arteries are clear. O dead, happy dead, prey to avid worms, remember life no more, and sleep!

Ah! When I can descend at last into your deep beds, like an old convict who sees his fetters drop away, how I would love to feel, without suffering, that which was myself go back into the common dust!

But, O dream! The dead are silent in their night. It is the wind, it is the effort of the dogs at their feeding, it is your dismal sigh, implacable Nature! It is my ulcerated heart that cries and moans.

Be quiet. The sky is deaf, the earth abhors you. What good so are many tears if you cannot heal? Be like a wounded wolf who falls into silence to die, and who bites at the blade with his bleeding jaws.

One final torture, one final heartbeat, and then, nothing. The earth opens up, a scrap of flesh drops in, and the grass of oblivion shall hide the grave and grow forever on so much vanity.

* * * * *

Le Vent froid de la Nuit.

Le vent froid de la nuit souffle à travers les branches
Et casse par moments les rameaux desséchés;
La neige, sur la plaine où les morts sont couchés,
Comme un suaire étend au loin ses nappes blanches.

En ligne noire, au bord de l'étroit horizon,
Un long vol de corbeaux passe en rasant la terre,
Et quelques chiens, creusant un tertre solitaire,
Entre-choquent les os dans le rude gazon.

J'entends gémir les morts sous les herbes froissées.
O pâles habitants de la nuit sans réveil,
Quel amer souvenir, troublant votre sommeil,
S'échappe en lourds sanglots de vos lèvres glacées?

Oubliez, oubliez! Vos coeurs sont consumés;
De sang et de chaleur vos artères sont vides.
O morts, morts bienheureux, en proie aux vers avides,
Souvenez-vous plutôt de la vie, et dormez!

Ah! dans vos lits profonds quand je pourrai descendre,
Comme un forçat vieilli qui voit tomber ses fers,
Que j'aimerai sentir, libre des maux soufferts,
Ce qui fut moi rentrer dans la commune cendre!

Mais, ô songe! Les morts se taisent dans leur nuit.
C'est le vent, c'est l'effort des chiens à leur pâture,
C'est ton morne soupir, implacable nature!
C'est mon coeur ulcéré qui pleure et qui gémit.

Tais-toi. Le ciel est sourd, la terre te dédaigne.
A quoi bon tant de pleurs si tu ne peux guérir?
Sois comme un loup blessé qui se tait pour mourir,
Et qui mord le couteau, de sa gueule qui saigne.

Encore une torture, encore un battement.
Puis, rien. La terre s'ouvre, un peu de chair y tombe
Et l'herbe de l'oubli, cachant bientôt la tombe,
Sur tant de vanité croît éternellement.

Alphonse Lemerre, Paris, sans date (1889?).

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Immaterial Silver of Thy Voice

As much as I love the poetry of George Sterling, I was disappointed by his "dramatic poem" from 1920, Rosamund. Like Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Sterling lacked a sense of drama; unlike Beddoes, he was unable to compensate, here, with brilliant imagery, metaphor, word-play -- the skillful use of language that gives the rest of his work so much beauty and power.

Still, in isolated passages, he does bring the poem to life....

It is true
That I have wealth. Within my galley's hold
Are splendors. All the cities of the North
Were sacked by Alboin. In their vaults he found
Part of the drifting treasure of the world --
Plunder of Rome, by Goth and Visigoth,
Vandal and Hun despoiled in years agone
And scattered and regathered and uptorn
By all the winds of conquest. They abide
Awhile with me -- the looped and banded gems,
The rings, the ingots, and the massy plate,
The necklaces and jewelries and crowns,
The silver of the violated East
And gold upheaped like honey in the hive.

Thou art a wealth more precious, and this gold
More beautiful than all the Caesars' hoard!

(smiling) I please thee?

By the fortune of thy hair,
The immaterial silver of thy voice,
The gems that are thine eyes, speak not of gold.
For all thy treasures are not worth thy kiss!

* * * * * * * *

Now Heaven be refuge from these wolves that love!
The pack surrounds me, and their eyes are fixed
Upon this breast my cunning cannot save.
So must one seize me. But that one shall be
The captain of that band. The rest shall seek
Their food with Death. 'T is I against the pack.
There must be no compassion, no delay.
Why fall to lesser fangs? Longinus' lair
Is near a throne. I may be queen again,
And Lombardy be shaggy with our spears...
The stars are out like moths around the moon.
I will be moon to men. The northern star
Shall have my favor, since his throne is fixed
And he joins not this swarm around my fire.
But I will be perdition to the rest!

Monday, June 1, 2015

My Sad-Eyed Daughters of the Night

by Ambrose Bierce.

Not as two errant spheres together grind
With monstrous ruin in the vast of space,
Destruction born of that malign embrace,
Their hapless peoples all to death consigned --
Not so when our intangible worlds of mind,
Even mine and yours, each with its spirit race
Of beings shadowy in form and face,
Shall drift together on some blessed wind.
No, in that marriage of gloom and light
All miracles of beauty shall be wrought,
Attesting a diviner faith than man's;
For all my sad-eyed daughters of the night
Shall smile on your sweet seraphim of thought,
Nor any jealous god forbid the banns.

Shapes of Clay.
W. E. Wood, Publisher. San Franciso, 1903.

Cold Obstruction

Although I love precision in prose and verse, and although I try to use the most down-to-earth, specific terms I can find, I have to respect the punch and quiver of a haunting abstract noun.

This is one of my favourite examples, from a play that is not one of my favourites. When I think of Measure for Measure, I always hear one harsh word: obstruction.

Death is a fearful thing.

And shamèd life a hateful.

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbèd ice;
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world, or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathèd worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

[Act 3, Scene 1]