Saturday, December 2, 2023

Elizabeth Robinson : Process Note 28

The 'process notes' pieces were originally solicited by Maw Shein Win as addendum to her teaching particular poems and poetry collections for various workshops and classes. This process note and poems by Elizabeth Robinson are part of her curriculum for her class at the University of San Francisco in their MFA in Writing Program.





For as long as I can remember, I’ve made poems by way of a process something like “soaking,” though that’s not really an accurate descriptor for what happens. 

Something incipient occurs or arises for me.  It broods.  It bides.  I have so little time to write that I’m beginning to think that that one of the principal pleasures of writing is waiting to write.  A shape, almost physical, grows.  I might begin to register its particulars.  A phrase that comes to mind while I’m walking.  Vestiges of a narrative.  A color, sound.  Less often an image.

For over a decade, whenever I was not writing, stuck, I’d pick a word or idea at random.  Say, “Krakatoa,” or “Only” or “Bitterness” and wait to see where the poem would lead me.  How it would erupt through the skin of my consciousness.  This became the book, Excursive.  I think of these poems as mini-essays, disorderly excursions.

How long does a poem take to articulate itself?  I can’t say.  Sometimes the poem is ready before I am: I’m too tired; I have other obligations.  The poem waits until it is an itch that must be scratched.  Or a meal that must be eaten.  Sometimes it waits until I have time to write it, but sometimes it doesn’t.

For some years, I would find myself obsessing about historic events or entities—bog people, the southwestern ruins at Hovenweep, women pirates, a Brazilian peasant uprising.  How they came to me, I don’t really know.  These poems looped around narrative, but escaped it.  They had other work to do that retell a story.  Somehow this became a book, too, called Thirst & Surfeit.  I could never finish the manuscript because was sure that I would write something about mummification.  I read about Egyptian and Incan mummies.  But such a poem never happened and the manuscript took shape anyway.

Despite soaking with a poem or poems, I typically cannot anticipate what I will write.  I like this.  I write fast and then revise later.  I like needing to be swift to track what’s already there even as it is still so elusive. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about rhapsody and trying to write rhapsodies.  There’s a switch that I can flip in my brain that urges, sound.  It’s a permission that I don’t have in daily life and so I’ve been allowing and pursuing that, hoping that sound will drive me past a limit I haven’t transgressed before.

This pressure on sound is manifesting for me what I’ve always experienced poetry to be: an excess of presence.  The lilt of the thing that exceeds what we can say.  Ultimately, I think all art-making is uncanny, bringing into being what we thought didn’t exist before: an absence that animates itself until we knew it was there all along.


On Krakatoa

From Excursive, Roof Books


Time was a tumor in its very own landmass.

It couldn’t have been more intrepid.


Think of the tumor speaking in first person:

          I climbed my own eruption.

          And higher.


          I said, “Excuse me” when I vomited.

Time was a contagion that forced currents against
their own grain.


I projected my one, my central organ from the core of my body:
           that is, violently.

That is, (intrepid) not the lung or heart, but the stomach.


Time was a countermeasure to civility: (Excuse me) infectious, Time says         

          I am the cancer

who ruptures the atmosphere with fumes of extraordinary beauty,

who climbs the sky with an affronting blush while the sun declines.




From Thirst & Surfeit, Threadsuns Press


As I am.  Now at sea.  I feign sleep.  I do

not sleep.  Slush of water

slaps over the bowed sides of the ship.  Stowaway.  Why

then do I feel the woody

grain of the gangplank swinging

underfoot.  As I embark.  Sleeplessness is

the parody of departure.  Who


goes nowhere finds rest.


Restlessness.  The water's

counterpane upheaves itself.



The stowaway awash, sleep-

less its tether to where

it wills itself and

will go.





Elizabeth Robinson is the author, most recently, of Excursive and Thirst & Surfeit. Two additional books are forthcoming: Rendered Paradise, written collaboratively with Susanne Dyckman will be published by Apogee Press.  Being Modernists Together is forthcoming from Solid Objects.  In the last few years, Robinson has received a Pushcart Prize and Editors’ Choice Prizes from New Letters and Scoundrel Time. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, the poet Randy Prunty.          



Maw Shein Win’s most recent poetry collection is Storage Unit for the Spirit House (Omnidawn) which was nominated for the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN America Open Book Award, and shortlisted for CALIBA’s Golden Poppy Award for Poetry. Win's previous collections include Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press) and two chapbooks: Ruins of a glittering palace (SPA) and Score and Bone (Nomadic Press). Win’s Process Note Series features poets and their process. She is the inaugural poet laureate of El Cerrito, CA and teaches poetry in the MFA Program at the University of San Francisco. Win often collaborates with visual artists, musicians, and other writers and was recently selected as a 2023 YBCA 100 Honoree. Along with Dawn Angelicca Barcelona and Mary Volmer, she is a co-founder of Maker, Mentor, Muse, a new literary community.

Nate Logan : Making Water, by Laura Jaramillo

Making Water, Laura Jaramillo
Futurepoem, 2022



One of the great things about poetry is that its history is full of the grandiose. Only poets can get away with this. Dante puts his poetry rivals in hell (admittedly, hard to beat this one) and the poetry beef was born. It’s 2023 and Mary Ruefle titles her latest collection The Book. Who else can do this without drawing ire from their contemporaries? Laura Jaramillo.

Despite the dark implications of the epigraph for Making Water, from which the title comes, Jaramillo chooses that over “bleeding in silence.” Water is necessary for life and, Jaramillo suggests, so is art. Making Water is both singular and expansive, both a collection of fragments and a narrative that details the speaker’s wrestling with contemporary life. As the ending of “Quarry” puts it: “Everything I know is fragments swimming off into the / private world of women” (8).

Slivers of this private world are revealed throughout the book. In “Bad Magic” the speaker appears to say to herself: “No longer quite young, you appear to yourself as a photograph / and the bad magic of Images fails you. Having never known your / beauty as a breathing being, a desolation appears to engulf you” (19). “Bread/Wine” uncovers even more as the speaker muses: “Motherhood must be so saturated with the future solitude / of children” and “The avant-garde buries its women like this / without flowers” (22, 23). Jaramillo’s speaker expresses many commonplace concerns, but her exploration is more nuanced. She is a keen observer who feels deeply and whose reactions impact the reader in their haunting phrasing.

The other major theme that ebbs and flows in Making Water is that of being part of a diaspora/immigrant/refugee community and its trials (specifically in coming to the United States). From “Gate Agent”:

          Double escalators in cold light read the hieroglyphs as aerogare
          Weight of sleeplessness mapped onto disconnected corridors.
          A girl bleeds from the mouth at border control. But also a budding
          stillness, move quietly thru q’s (42)

And in “Handedness”:

          Just call me the LOL assassin, or forget to. Austerity is a metal
          spike to adorn our vague tongue with acid dislocating speech.
          English, the language of knives and incorporations,
          the language of instruments (67)

Like water, the speaker is moving, seemingly without end. In “Gate Agent” we’re in an airport and a border, both points of transformation. What’s striking is that this is an American airport and an American border crossing—these are places many of us go at one time or another, but their design appears much differently through the wide-awake eyes. The experience of crossing changes the speaker, both internally (“a budding / stillness”) and externally (“English, the language of knives and incorporations”). How do we explain when words fail? We try (and fail better) in poetry.

I can imagine the world where Making Water is the title of a ghostwritten celebrity autobiography. In that book, the title is a callback to a movie role and the words are empty calories. But lucky for us, we’re in this world where our poets are bold and create art that shakes us out of our sleepwalking. Laura Jaramillo is one such poet and Making Water is a collection that does just that. This book will stick to my heart for a long time.





Nate Logan is the author of Wrong Horse (Moria Books, fall of 2023) and Inside the Golden Days of Missing You (Magic Helicopter Press, 2019). He lives in Indiana.

Renee Rodin : Not In My Name





Years ago I realized Palestinians might see me as their
tormentor. It made me less afraid of Germans, a fear I'd
carried around since childhood.  

This latest hell, a family feud. Semites. My people in
Israel, my cousins in Gaza. Hostages to history.
"War crimes" we cry as if war itself weren't a crime.

Clutching my remote control I watch the rubble grow.
The corpses piling up. Parents had written names on
their children's legs to identify them for burial.

I'm as deflated as an old helium balloon, my neighbour
says, "chin up, you only go around once." Fuelled by
cellular memory we go around many times.

We cover the mirror when we sit shiva because to see
our grief would be unbearable. Then we look again to
be able to see ourselves in the faces of others.





Renee Rodin lives in Vancouver on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people. Her books include Bread and Salt (Talonbooks, 1996) and Subject to Change (Talonbooks, 2010) and the chapbook, Ready for Freddy (Nomados, 2005). She has writing in recent issues of The Capilano Review and Some Magazine. She is a mother and a grandmother.


Jérôme Melançon : Poetry's Geographies. A Transatlantic Anthology of Translations, eds. Katherine M. Hedeen and Zoë Skoulding

Poetry's Geographies. A Transatlantic Anthology of Translations, eds. Katherine M. Hedeen and Zoë Skoulding
Eulalia Books/Shearsman Books, 2022




The translations in this volume are not brought together through the cartography typical of anthologies, which justifies choices through the slippery concept of representation where poems stand in for so many others and focuses on place and rootedness. Instead, as the editors invited translators to choose poets they would translate, the individual choices of the translators and the resonance between them and their poet come first in the composition of the book. The presence and creativity of each translator is then brought forward by their own essays on translation. Alternating between poet-translators and translated poets ensures that neither role is forgotten, and allows the translated, recreated poems to stand on their own.

Indeed, the focus on the book is very much on the translation of poetry rather than on poetry in translation. Skoulding writes of her and Hedeen's intentions that: "We wanted to create a frame for encountering translation that does not bracket off poetry within national determinations that it may resist or evade, but that describes some of its movements and relations through the practice of translating." (21-22)

And so rather than offering a guide to the poems the co-editors collected, Skoulding offers an introductory essay that opens up the reading rather than orienting it. She favours the notions of counter-mapping, ripple effects, surroundings, intersections, the erratic, Glissant's errancy, Kaiser's intra-actions, and ultimatelt, friction and friendship. The selection then offers "glimpses of a world that does not appear on any map." (16)

The focus on the acts of translation and the choices of the editors and translators show that the blurring of borders and movement through their isolating effects is already a part of US and UK poetry. Against the view of the poetry of these areas as insular and unreliant on translation – an absence mentioned in the introduction but perhaps belied to a point by the volume's existence – this non-anthology brings to light existing practices and dynamics that may be marginal but nonetheless form a part of the poetic landscape the nation-state defines.

Mapping out this book would consequently be a waste of time and effort. Instead, following the editors' lead, I can pick up and manipulate a few instances of the inquiry into the act of translation the authors laid down for us.

* * *

Must translation be difficult? Johannes Göransson openly rejects the focus on its difficulty and the imperative distance of the translator from the text to appeal instead to the possibilities opened by mimesis and sympathy. The translator becomes the poet – neither the original nor the second poet, but the one whose voice is heard in the poem. Erín Moure goes even further and absorbs her poet. The difficulties of translation being a given, she finds in the intranslatable a different ground for her work. After all, languages create speakers by creating habits in their mouths, and hold vast cultural iconographies. They are made up of shortcuts to what readers already know, and these elements become unrecognizable after translation. She chooses to focus on the particularities of the poet’s own speaking and habits and on her accent. She writes about intranslating, which is to “translate across a self, produce a version that relies on the gulf or gap just as it abhors it.” (222) The intranslatable is not untranslatable, but rather present in the translation itself. Shall we go even further? Co-editor Zoë Skoulding describes her response to the poet – her positioning herself alongside him, practicing an open-ended listening, aiming for receptivity – as being alike to listening to music. Translation then is resonance with the langage and the world where it finds its origin. There is a deep aesthetic satisfaction in the process for her: “the pleasure of translation is immersion in a different sound and communal encounter through the text, the sense of being between languages.” (242)

We can see these choices in the translated poems. Frédéric Forte’s is the only poem I can read in the original. Forte is also, I believe, the only poet I had read prior to opening this book (if we exclude Moure’s and Skoulding’s own poetry). A member of OULIPO and a collaborative writer, Forte stands as a great example of the search for alternatives in approaching writing. After all, his book Dire ouf, as Skoulding points out, is a non-translated response to the homophonically name musical group Deerhoof. Skoulding performs Forte’s poem here: the words and feel in the mouth will not be the same, meaning will reach for other places, but we get the same ascent in images and feeling, the same descent in the scattered short lines. The format of this review only allows me to reproduce the words without their arrangement on the page:

—ou monter
une expédition
dans les branches
et s’apercevoir
qu’on vit là depuis
depuis toujours, face
au soleil
même quand il frappe
( dans le temps )
à rebours—

—or mounting
an expedition
in branches
and then realizing
that you’d always lived
there always, facing
into the
sun even when it
hits ( in time )

runs backwards—

Skoulding maintains the speed of the French by adding the word “runs” and keeping shorter words in the last part; lets the reader climb into the poem by substituting “you” for the stodgier but more accurate “one”; repeats “always” instead of “since” and erasing since altogether, because it is not needed after so much eternity; and re-creating the final pause by adding a line break at the end. It is the same poem, only it has continued to become since it was written; it is the same melody and rhythm, only it is melody and rhythm as they are heard instead of as they are played.

Or to take Moure’s translation of Chus Pato, we have a poem that speaks to the English readers, instead of speaking to the Galician readers:

If you watch me in the mirror
you’ll see poplars
toward sunrise a park
at its top, urban structures,
toward sunset the waters run freely
and the trees bunch in oakwoods
or are dome for the river
the fields soak up water and reflect wintry skies
behind them, industrial zones.

Moure gives movement to Pato’s speech, transitioning from quick, immediate images to slower, longer phrases and thoughts that are more difficult to pin down. The comma on the last line add ambiguity on the function of “behind them,” moving from the safety of familiar surroundings to the vast expanse of what the them in “behind them” might refer back to, the permutations of what can be found behind what else.

* * *

Must translation draw a straight line from the origin to the destination? This book is full of refusals. Co-editor Kathering M. Hedeen’s refusal of the treatment of Spanish in the United States and, along with it, of the Global South as a whole, leads her to a translation practice of mirroring, traveling, countermapping, and charting (much like Skoulding). Meena Kandasamy’s refusal of the traditions in the translation and interpretation of the Tamil classic Thirukkural and the patriarchal institutions they uphold leads her to change the form of the poem in order to remain true to its mood and open possibilities. Don Mee Choi’s refusal of distance becomes a practice of return to the poem through the translation and to what is intertwined in the language of origin and specifically war, since translating between English and Korean entails at once an unavoidable continuation of neocolonial language and the choice of resisting it.

* * *

Must translation give us something of the original author? Ghazal Mosadeq evokes the poet’s style and choices, preserves his penchants as well as his oscillation, but translates, she says, only the poem. Lived personal and political experience cannot be translated; context can only make sense of the work of the poem, not give it directly, nor undo the equivocality of the poem. Forrest Gander presents the personality of the poem, shows the life that is its own, by following its own arc, its own way of speaking. Poems live through their need for interpretation, Gander tells us, but also through their sound, which cannot pass into a different language. Translation becomes guesswork; it is not archive, it does not document anything that might have been original. Translation, as Sasha Dugdale suggests, becomes part of the poem’s history and part of its growth; it transplants the poem to new soil so that it may grow differently there. The translator, as Dan Eltringham suggests, maintains the displacement operated by the poem and looks after the new place it creates. What remains, according to Steven Watts, is a physical presence, the bodying forth of the poem, a language that is shared between the poet and the translator, a sharing that seeps into the translation.

* * *

In this reversal of the standard stance toward translation, this anthology allows for many points of entry and departure, and resists any kind of linear reading. It does not rely on unity of origins or destinations, or even of movements between them. It relates a series of encounters between translators and poets, poets and poets, translators and translations and, above all, the reader who becomes translator and the reader who becomes so while reading the translations. Perhaps its one constant, in the absence of the possibility of any one appearance or presence of a poem, is the focus on movement at the heart of writing, reading, and interpreting that beckons the reader who attempts to move from one act of language to another while encountering poem and translation.






Jérôme Melançon writes and teaches and writes and lives in oskana kâ-asastêki / Regina, SK. His third chapbook, Bridges Under the Water, was published by above/ground press in August 2023. It follows Tomorrow’s Going to Be Bright (2022) and Coup (2020), as well as his most recent poetry collection, En d’sous d’la langue (Prise de parole, 2021). He has also published two books of poetry with Éditions des Plaines, De perdre tes pas (2011) and Quelques pas quelque part (2016), as well as one book of philosophy, La politique dans l’adversité (Metispresses, 2018). He has edited books and journal issues, and keeps publishing academic articles that have nothing to do with any of this. He’s on various social media, with handles resembling @lethejerome.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Rahat Kurd : Three poems


In heart and vitals; in chest, ribs, and eyes

Passion, where does your blaze not burn?

Munni Bai Hijab, 19th century Urdu poet  


Musculo-Skeletal Ghazal

Woman at fifty, uncertain of face, weary bones clamour for attention
Shamed was the age to grant women life who only forswore attention 

Inflamed by age, or empathy? Rasp of lung, peril of hip, shoulder, wrist —
After your searing wit, Munni Bai, could my ghazal merit your attention?

To bridge a rift that steep, your brain must strive for symmetry
Inimical visions possessing each eye reconcile in your attention

Blood, border, cult of false belonging, shut your doors against me
I belong to rivers of language, overflowing where I pour attention

More rare, more strange, more sustaining, more obdurate than love
This will to live won’t leave me since I briefly held your attention

To die in the arms of the poem might be the devout translator’s prayer
What better homage than to fall between lines that won your attention?



Twenty Seventeen Ghazal

True rebellion frees just that woman laughter reminds of money.
My nation would arm freedom fighters with that kind of money.  

You cannot, cold Accounts Receivable zeroes, take from me
Anything that I will more willingly part withal, except that kind of money.

Threadbare, per poetic tradition, I roam planets and galaxies —
My best work turns cartwheels through the puny mind of money. 

In coastal quake, felled tower glass would crush us splinter-bloody.
Wolf at the door; views to die for; give us our daily grind for money.

Let scarcity swindle Rahat; let false economy fleece her to the skin.
She waxes rich with rhyme. They chew the hard prose rind of money.



Ghazal by Munni Bai Hijab*

No power can describe or imagine the state of Hijab!
Whose listeners’ tears don’t fall – hers is not that story

In heart and vitals; in chest, ribs, and eyes
Passion, where does your blaze not burn?

You slay everyone who sighs for you – it’s alarming
You’re still convinced there are no true lovers here

Don’t ask about my sorrow – what could I tell you?
I lost the path to the garden. Of home I have no memory

Against your lack of pity, I too would buy some provision 
If only hearts were for sale in the market of fate

Why do they slander the woman they vex and torment?
They must believe there is no tongue in my mouth

That one – and he comes to my house as he wills!
Modesty covers my head but no sky shelters me


Translated from the Urdu by Rahat Kurd



*Munni Bai ‘Hijab’ (her takhallus, or pen name) was born in Kolkata in the 19th century and wrote in the classical ghazal form in Urdu. I was captivated by this ghazal’s embodied emotional directness and the wryness of its refrain (‘Nahiñ...nahiñ...nahiñ’ or ‘there isn’t...there isn’t...there isn’t’), relieving its otherwise melancholic mood. Literary scholars and multiple textual sources agree that Hijab was a tawa’if, (an Urdu term unsatisfactorily if conventionally translated as ‘courtesan’) who met, loved, and corresponded with the celebrated poet Dagh Dehlvi (1831-1905). Only this bare sketch of her life and a scant number of her poems have survived either the careless inattentions of the men who presided over Urdu-language poetry and poetics, or the erasures and thefts of colonial British rule.





Rahat Kurd is at work on a prose memoir and a poetry collection. Her essay “Elegiac Moods: Letters to Agha Shahid Ali” appears in the anthology river in an ocean: essays on translation, edited by Nuzhat Abbas (Trace Press, 2023). She is co-author with Sumayya Syed of The City That Is Leaving Forever: Kashmiri Letters (Non-fiction, Talonbooks, 2021) and author of COSMOPHILIA (Poems, Talonbooks, 2015).


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