Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Unattic Nights: John H. Finley On The Latin Language.

It was the House Master's residence celebrating some triumph or other of Eliot House in the Master's dining room. Sherry was served. John Finley stood at the head of the table with others standing around, including students. Someone said something in or about Latin. Finley immediately leaned back as if looking into a distance that none of us could see. He stood there a moment and then said, to no one in particular and as if reading from an invisible text beyond the ceiling of the dining room, “Latin is like a pinball machine.”

Everyone quieted down—we all knew an extended metaphor was on the way.

The pinball after a push bumps around and lights blink. Suddenly it goes into the right hole and everything is flashing lights, ringing bells, and buzzers.”

The quotation is to deon and may not be exact. Finley also may have said this, roughly, at many other times and places.

The gist surely rings true for those doing more elaborately worked Latin.

Those who knew John Finley personally will understand immediately that there was an implied contrast with ancient Greek.

In memory he is still standing there, and has been, in this and other scenes for more than fifty years.

E. A. Costa 31 December, 2014 Granada, Nicaragua.

The Odd Couple: Gertrude Stein & Ezra Pound

Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound are the odd couple of American letters, who, despite enormous contrasts of surface, had much in common. Both spent early years in the American West—Stein in California, where she was raised, Pound in Idaho where he was born. Both were highly educated in ways no longer widely understood--Stein eventually at Harvard under William James, among others, Pound more widely—at Cheltenham Military Academy—then at the University of Pennsylvania but everywhere with the monomaniacal appetite of the brilliant autodidact.

Stein was nouveau riche in American terms, and Pound, though poor much of his life, descended from the earliest English in the New World. But both were far from any American or other lower class.

Both were ex-patriates by choice and for a long period of their lives, Stein in France, where it is said she got on quite well in later years with some high-ranking NAZI officials, Pound in various venues, including London and later Fascist Italy where he carried on in radio broadcasts, sometimes in his most backwoods American dialects.

Pound is generally identified as a virulent anti-Semite most of his life, which is not so much inaccurate as incomplete. Part of his vitriol was purely literary, to preserve an earlier and traditional English usage of “Jew”, shared with Shakespeare, for example. Interestingly enough, he often used the same word to describe the greed of some of the leading gentiles, British and American, whom he saw as examples of the same traits.

Stein, on the other hand, wholly secularized and independent, early rejected the whole characterization of being Jewish, especially in terms of significant self-characterization.

Their dislike for one another was intense, though with respect, and on occasion they sat down to supper together, less over what food and spirits were served, than over the shared topics of art and literature.

They were both great poets in their own and different ways, and revolutionary, and also patrons of others, Stein most notably of Pablo Picasso, Pound of T. S. Eliot, whom he early promoted and whose early work he edited brilliantly.

Interestingly enough, in relation to another reversal and thus similarity, Stein was clearly what might be called the harder and more masculine of the two, in which the terms are not meant to carry obloquy of any sort, but just the opposite.

In short, both were uniquely American in new ways, and in ways that will never occur again. It is clearly a case of two sides of the same coin, or, as Stein herself subtly implied, the city mouse and the country mouse.

Both were cutting wits, though in vastly different modes. Stein was the stiletto who skewered in an instant image, Pound the scalpel that more carefully and laboriously sliced opened and cut a away.

In this Stein surely had the upper hand, describing Pound quite neatly as “the village explainer”, useful if one is in a village and not, if not. Pound's riposte, if any, is not recorded as far as one knows. In  distant retrospect,  it is obvious enough. If Pound was the explainer, Stein was the national pain in the ass.

Both roles were key not only in what passed for American “culture” at the time, but also, insofar as both managed to escape into a wider literature than that of the still provincial and crass United States, for Europe, and through Europe, for the world.

E. A. Costa 31 December, 2014 Granada, Nicaragua

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Del nuevo diccionario del diablo: s.v. BAQUIANO

BAQUIANO, BAQUEANO: s.m. (Am. Lat.), explorador de nuevos senderos por terreno desconocido. En inglés: “pathfinder”, “scout”, “guide”. Refrán viejo: Para hacerse baquiano hay que perderse alguna vez (e.g. “to learn by trial and error”). Ejemplo nuevo clásico: "Virgilio es el baquiano de Dante por el infierno" [Paraíso Postergado, Canto XIII, verso 326].

E. A. Costa diciembre 28 2014 Granada, Nicaragua

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Mannequin On Calle La Calzada

                “Pero una estatua de sal
                no es una Musa inoportuna....”

                                     Carlos Martínez Rivas

She sits on the sidewalk
outside the shop in a black mesh chair.

Dressed in the latest fashion,
she sits one long leg draped over the other,
in a perfect pose of being about to rise recognizing you.

She sits a martyr's plaster of eagerness with the littlest kiss of lipstick.

She sits waiting for you during daylight & vanishing every night.

The shop girl sitting within, mobile in ice and boredom,
simply can't compete.

E. A. Costa 26 December, 2014  Granada, Nicaragua

El Maniquí de Calle La Calzada

              “Pero una estatua de sal
               no es una Musa inoportuna....”

                            Carlos Martínez Rivas

en una silla
de red negra

en la acera
fuera de la tienda

es vestida
a la última moda
cruzando las piernas
una sobre otra.

Se está sentando
a la postura perfecta
de estar por levantarse
para contigo encontrarse.

El rostro es yeso de mártir deseoso
con un matiz de lápiz labial.

Cada día te aguarda
y cada noche desaparece.

Sentada en otra silla
la muchacha de tienda
móbil en hielo y hastío
con ella no rivaliza.

E. A. Costa diciembre 26 2014, Granada, Nicaragua*
* N.B. This began as a fairly literal translation and
slowly turned into something a bit different, so to say,
structurally, though still a translation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

De Carmen Naranjo (traducción en inglés)

Ayer te busqué
en ese asiento vacío
del avión

en ese asiento vacío
del parque

en ese asiento vacío
del taxi

en ese asiento vacío
del comedor

en ese asiento vacío
de mi cuarto.

Hoy te sequiré buscando.

Carmen Naranjo (2001)

I looked for you
in the empty seat
on the airplane

on the empty park bench

in the vacant passenger seat of the taxi

in the unfilled chair at that little eatery

in the emptiness of my room.

Today I will keep looking.

(Tr. E. A. Costa  Granada, Nicaragua 22 December 2014)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Siestas y desperezos

The Irish had planted potatoes there.
The first Fall my family dug them up
and ate them.

That must have been about A.D. 1952.

In Spring in the cold clean river
we hunted watercress and ate it as salad.

In Summer we went north to Ipswich
and spent all day on the rocks
gathering periwinkles,
brought them back iced--buckets of them,
spent all day with needles
pricking them out of their shells,
for a sauce never sold
in any market.

We ate them over linguine
cooked in huge pots
in Rosa's magnificent kitchen.

Friday was fish day.

Masses were Latin.

There is really no way to recall the night sky.

There was less night light in those days.

The air was clean.

Laid out on your back
on the moist grass
where the potatoes
had been hiding,
was a universe above.

Half of the huge oak
had been blasted away by the hurricane.

The ancient miniature pear tree survived,
bore endless fruit every Fall.

It filled bushel baskets.

We ate them.

More came.

Some fermented on the concrete slab
over which laundry was hung and dried.

They smelled like brandy.

Laundry was white and heavy.

There was much linen.

It smelled like ozone.

Skippy the Collie chased cars
and was killed, died howling
and bleeding on the front porch.

Blood smells metallic.

It is hard to remember what world it was.

Massachusetts? Middlesex County?

E. A. Costa 7 December 2014 Granada, Nicaragua

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Poetry Is F_____g up (Alcman Q.E.D.)

            "Another thing these gentlemen seem not to know 
             is that poetry and history offer different wares, and
             have their separate rules...."

                         Lucian of Samosata  (tr. Fowler & Fowler) 

Poetry is f_____g up.


Dead poets: n_ s___ t____.

No such thing.

Poetry is what happens between words when no one is looking.


Why say one thing with one word
when you can sing everything with two?


Explaining the endless endurance
of love poetry.

He said.
She said.

And by the way
what did Alcman
love when he threw away
his shield?

And by the way
what did Alcman
love when he lyricized
throwing away
his shield?

Being openly unshielded?
By a bush?

These verses
and melodies
Alcman discovered
by paying close attention to:

f_____g up.


Fooling around with two,
with tú and you &
other partridges
in a pair tree.




Naso beware.


E. A. Costa 8 December 2014 Granada, Nicaragua
Nota Bene: As far as is known, Archilochus, soldier and poet, was the first to drop his shield in battle and run, then treat the event in a poem, vowing to get another one just as good. Thus began the figure called the rhipsaspia, or the throwing down of the shield, known also in regard to Alcaeus and Anacreon and later used by Horace, who fled the battle of Philippi, relicta non bene parmula (“my little shield having been left behind not at all nicely”). Did Horace actually carry a shield in the battle to throw down, and not only that one by definition small enough not to hinder running? It is the best with topoi and figures, poetic and otherwise, to leave the question open. Alcman unshielded, on the other hand, is a modern expansion.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

El candado cansado

       Encúrvase el dedo y ya tienes el espacio....

                                             Álvaro Urtecho


They are strangling themselves
with strange love's black hands
to the vast amusement of a third man
in a third land with a third eye
and three ugly feet.

Who has a clue? Who has the key? They do.
It is in their right back pocket.

Both of them rocket for it. Both hands struggle.

And the band plays on.


What is the space between two songs?

Does nothing have its reasons,
like all other reasons invented
after the fact?

Does the size of vacuity matter?

Does it have its vicinities and seasons and changes of face,
like the moon?

To half a glass eye it adds a crescent
and becomes gibbous, growing slowly
to eclipse.

Like a clipper ship around the horn
a new world is born freighting frost
to San Francisco and back in long round days
at sea.

Both of them rocket for it. Both hands struggle.

And the band plays on.


Tell me, good people,
who is your creator but the devil,
whom you yourself invented and treasured
with all the secret pleasures of a sleeping
secret Egyptian,

whose long whiles lay stock still along the Nile
for four thousand years,

with ears like the jackal
and a nose like the three noses
of the platypus who smells

Fickle she was this river,
this shoelace through mountain waste,
fickle and fish-tasting but trickable
by immobile Pharaonic bluff.

Which while was that?
Which Nile—white or blue?

Both of them rocket for it. Both hands struggle.

And the band plays on.


Your chaos
written in blood
is nothing new or huge
screwed tightly on the Canopic jar
of putative new anatomy and knowledge.

You are not the river.

You are not the barge.

You are not the driver.

You are not the sea—neither of you,

nor even the universal crocodile
shitting your tripes into the muddy flow
of rising brown water in flood.

You are the ersatz & exchangeable ant,
red and black, picayune and huge,
whose phases are dunce cap and corner,
honed and wired and mass-producing
nosegays distinct and fungible
on a bed of invisible roses.

Come the locust.
Come the groundhog.
Come the pubic lobster.
Come the bullfrog.
Come the giraffe of sunset.
Come lunatic laughter in silhouette.

Both of them rocket for it. Both hands struggle.

And the band plays on.


The third ant and real.
The third authentic bee.
The third wolf and the third feral dog.
The third bear. The third hare. The third cat.
The third termite & the third acacia tree.

The beating of the Book of the Dead
door to door, floor to floor,
evangelizing islands and isthmuses,
sanitizing, harmonizing, simonizing
twilight into one more false dawn.

Let loose all your death.

Let loose all dolor.

Let loose the dull colors of your last curse
and shake the newborn earth
into morbidity.

No one will remember you.

No one will know your name.

No one will know you were here or there
for a year or a million or a day.

No one will resurrect you.

No one will reconstruct you.

You do not matter.

And as you pass hand in hand
through two performances in platinum
at the same and different time,
and the goose is cooked,

the band plays on.

E. A. Costa 4 December, 2014 Granada, Nicaragua