Sunday, December 5, 2010


Dec. 7, 2010

[N.B. You can click on highlighted names or titles to go directly to the referenced article.]

By Eileen Tabios

Camille Martin reviews SALINE by Kimberly Lyons

Patrick James Dunagan reviews DEAR SANDY, HELLO: LETTERS FROM TED TO SANDY BERRIGAN, Edited by Sandy Berrigan and Ron Padgett

Jon Curley reviews AUTOPSY TURVY by Thomas Fink and Maya Diablo Mason

Eileen Tabios engages HAD SLAVES by Catherine Sasanov

John Herbert Cunningham reviews SELECTED POEMS OF GARCILASO DE LA VEGA, Edited and translated by John Dent-Young

Kathryn Stevenson reviews MONEY FOR SUNSETS by Elizabeth J. Colen

T.C. Marshall reviews VANCOUVER: A POEM by George Stanley and IN THE MILLENIUM by Barry McKinnon

Eric Dickey reviews AS IT TURNED OUT by Dmitry Golynko, Edited by Eugene Ostashevsky. Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and Rebecca Bella with Simona Schneider


Patrick James Dunagan reviews UNTAM’D WING: RIFFS ON ROMANTIC POETRY by Jeffrey C. Robinson

Harry Thorne reviews NEIGHBOR by Rachel Levitsky

Michael Pollock engages "El Dorado" by Edgar Allan Poe, Spanish translation by Mario Murgia in EL CURVO Y OTROS POEMAS by Edgar Allan Poe, Edicion bilingue with Traduccion del proyecto Helbardot and Ilustraciones de Gustavo Abascal

Barbara Roether reviews FIRE EXIT by Robert Kelly

Allen Bramhall reviews SITUATIONS by Laura Carter

Eileen Tabios engages 1000 SONNETS by Tim Atkins

Eric Hoffman reviews ESCHATON by Michael Heller

Jon Curley reviews 100 NOTES ON VIOLENCE by Julie Carr

Genevieve Kaplan reviews NETS by Jen Bervin and THE MS OF M Y KIN by Janet Holmes

Aileen Ibardaloza reviews THE CHAINED HAY(NA)KU PROJECT, Curated by Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Ernesto Priego & Eileen Tabios and THE HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY, VOL. II, Edited by Jean Vengua and Mark Young

John Herbert Cunningham reviews COLLECTED POEMS by Dylan Thomas


Allen Bramhall reviews NOT BLESSED by Harold Abramowitz

Moira Richards reviews A IS FOR ANNE by Penelope Scambly Schott



Rebecca Loudon reviews GOD DAMSEL by Reb Livingston

Eileen Tabios engages REQUIEM FOR THE ORCHARD by Oliver de la Paz

Kristi Castro reviews EDGE BY EDGE, collection of poetry chaps by Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter

Allen Bramhall reviews I-FORMATION BOOK 1 by Anne Gorrick

Lynn Behrendt reviews I-FORMATION BOOK 1 by Anne Gorrick

Eileen Tabios engages Lynn Behrendt's review of Anne Gorrick's I-FORMATION BOOK 1

Michael Caylo-Baradi reviews MISSPELL by Lars Palm

John Herbert Cunningham reviews PENURY by Myung Mi Kim

Albert B. Casuga reviews TRAJE DE BODA: POEMS by Aileen Ibardaloza

Richard Lopez reviews SOME SONNETS, Edited by Tim Wright

Eileen Tabios engages APPARITION POEMS by Adam Fieled

L.M. Freer reviews BEATS AT NAROPA: AN ANTHOLOGY, Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright

Moira Richards reviews (MADE) by Cara Benson

Thomas Fink reviews DRUNKER/HOLDING EMBER by Raymond Farr

Edric Mesmer reviews ON SECRETS OF MY PRISON HOUSE by Geoffrey Gatza

Peg Duthie engages EATING HER WEDDING DRESS: A COLLECTION OF CLOTHING POEMS, Edited by Vasiliki Katsarou, Ruth O’Toole, and Ellen Foos

Eileen Tabios engages BEHAVE: CALIFORNIA RANT 66 by Steve Tills

Jim McCrary reviews MR. MAGOO by Steve Tills

Nicholas T. Spatafora reviews AUTOPSY TURVY by Thomas Fink and Maya Diablo Mason

Margaret H. Johnson reviews MANHATTAN MAN (AND OTHER POEMS) by Jack Lynch

Eileen Tabios engages AT TROTSKY'S FUNERAL by Mark Young

Marianne Villanueva reviews ERNESTA, IN THE STYLE OF FLAMENCO by Sandy McIntosh

Hadas Yatom-Schwartz engages “Nathan, in the Ancient Language”, a poem in ERNESTA, IN THE STYLE OF THE FLAMENCO by Sandy McIntosh

Patrick James Dunagan reviews COLLECTED POEMS / GUSTAF SOBIN, Edited by Esther Sobin, Andrew Joron, Andrew Zawacki, and Ed Foster



John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews AT THE FAIR by Tom Clark

Peg Duthie engages 32 SNAPSHOTS OF MARSEILLES by Guy Bennett

Jim McCrary reviews THE HAY(NA)KU FOR HAITI SERIES, Edited by Eileen Tabios

Kristina Marie Darling reviews THE FRENCH EXIT by Elisa Gabbert

Anny Ballardini reviews BRAINOGRAPHY by Evelyn Posamentier


G.E. Schwartz reviews THE FUTURE IS HAPPY by Sarah Sarai

Kristina Marie Darling reviews TINDERBOX LAWN by Carol Guess

Eileen Tabios engages DIWATA by Barbara Jane Reyes

Peg Duthie engages DUTIES OF AN ENGLISH FOREIGN SECRETARY by Macgregor Card

John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews ADAMANTINE by Shin Yu Pai

Jeff Harrison reviews GRIEF SUITE by Bobbi Lurie

Allen Bramhall reviews OPULENCE by Stephen Ellis


Jim McCrary reviews CARRY CATASTROPHE by Megan Kaminski

Moira Richards reviews THEN, SOMETHING by Patricia Fargnoli

Eileen Tabios engages KING OF THE JUNGLE by Zvi A. Sesling

Genevieve Kaplan reviews POETS ON TEACHING: A SOURCEBOOK, Edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Kristina Marie Darling

Tom Beckett interviews ANNE GORRICK

Thomas Fink interviews JOANNA FUHRMAN

Lisa Bower reviews SKIRT FULL OF BLACK by Sun Yung Shin

Eric Dickey reviews LIGHT FROM A BULLET HOLE: POEMS NEW AND SELECTED, 1950–2008 by Ralph Salisbury

Hay(na)ku for Haiti--a Haiti Relief Fundraiser

No Deer Were Shot For These Shots!


Of course, I’d like to share my son Michael’s first published poem, HERE! Here is Michael taking over a dog bed to read Achilles a story -- well, at least he's got a book in one hand ... along with ice cream on other hand!

So, to official bidness: Thanks as ever to GR's numerous, generous volunteer staff of reviewers. In addition to some wonderful feature articles, we have 72 NEW REVIEWS this issue! And this issue is also special because Michael offers his engagement with a poetry project through a drawing--HERE is his engagement with Edgar Allan Poe's "El Dorado"! When not blathering on about my son, I like to track GR's progress, so here are some poetry-lovin' stats!

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 9: 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 11: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice)
Issue 12: 87 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 13: 55 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 14: 64 new reviews (3 projects were reviewed twice)
Issue 15: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 4 projects were reviewed twice)

Of reviewed publications, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 9: 42 out of 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 46 out of 68 new reviews
Issue 11: 46 out of 72 new reviews
Issue 12: 35 out of 87 new reviews
Issue 13: 38 out of 55 new reviews
Issue 14: 40 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 15: 43 out of 72 new reviews

I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review. Obviously, people are following up with your submissions! Information for submissions and available review copies HERE. Future reviewers also should note that the next review submission deadline is March 15, 2010.

As of Issue No. 15, we are pleased to report that GR has provided 848 new reviews (covering 365 publishers in 17 countries so far) and 66 reprinted reviews (to bring online reviews previously available only viz print or in now-defunct online sites).


As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi or put in the comments sections and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).


Wait for it! One more photo of Michael--here he is having moved from dog bed to actual reading chair as he becomes The Light of My Life This Holiday Season!

With much love, poetry and fur,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
December 7, 2010



Saline by Kimberly Lyons
(Instance Press, Boulder, CO, 2005)

Kimberly Lyons’ Fleeting Continuum

The problem (and pleasure) of reviewing a book of poetry by Kimberly Lyons is that a review needs to generalize to an extent, yet my temptation is to pause at the details in the language, to become wrapped up in close readings of the images that flow in a continually morphing reverie. Nevertheless, in the face of such richness of language, I also find myself searching for strategies that might unlock (to use a recurring image from Saline) “the fuzzy vault / of the radio sphericity / of our signaling thoughts”—or, conversely, searching for Lyon’s semantic strategies encoded in what might at first seem to be a random collage.

Most obviously, Lyons’ poetic language is remarkably sensual: within her hallucinatory succession of images are precisely-described phenomena, as in “a red scarf, thin as water,” “dolorous lilies,” and “rusted lantern.” Details of colour, temperature, shape, position, age, movement, sound, texture, and emotional quality abound. Moreover, the senses are often blended so as to suggest synesthetic experience, as in “orbs of noise” and “orange smell.”

This strong empirical quality of the images invites us to juxtapose sensory experiences that might normally occur in different conceptual realms, to borrow Lakoff and Johnson’s term, and to consider their commonalities. The cognitive process encouraged in the reader is associative and figurative: metaphor and metonym create links among the words of a poem that might otherwise fly apart. To take the example of “Hives”:
Peripheral snaps, like a flyswatter
with no sweat
fits of sound without shape
the kitchen
of September a cellular
from hair, hives
globs of orange smell
the moon’s raincoat &
newspaper dregs
diaphanous in its costumes
the soul
decorated with beads &
words grow inward
edges ephemeral as this page is.

The language of “Hives” produces odd juxtapositions, but the words are generally concrete, sensual: “globs of orange smell / the moon’s raincoat & / newspaper dregs.” The rapid succession of seemingly unrelated images is complicated by the ambiguous syntax: is it the soul or words that are decorated with beads and bottlecaps? Nonetheless, the images are decidedly not random. Metaphorically, the itching of hives might feel like “peripheral snaps,” which in turn suggests a “flyswatter” without the “sweat” that might accompany hives. That sensory experience could be synesthetically described as “fits of sound without shape.” In addition, metonymic threads link “kitchen” to “lab” and “cellular” as well as to “orange,” “globs,” smell,” and “bottlecaps.” “Diaphanous” resonates with “ephemeral,” “soul,” and “inward”; “newspaper” relates to “page.”

The title suggests the centrality of the image of hives, with its pun on colonies of bees (suggesting perhaps the busy-ness of the words whose meanings “ricochet” off each other). The visceral connotations of this word are associated with images from other senses: sight, smell, taste, sound. Thus the centripetal energy in the poem derives from the linking of senses and images; their relatedness gives the poem a kind of musical coherence in its interplay of themes and motifs.

At the end of this poem is a meta-poetic gesture that recurs in several poems in Saline, in this case, linguistic ephemerality. Lyons reminds us that the poem, although evoking sensory images, is composed of words, and these words “grow inward / edges ephemeral as this page is.” One edge of “kitchen” is the idea of mixing edible things: grains, herbs, meats, in a similar way that chemicals are mixed in a laboratory. Another edge of “kitchen” is the sensory images that it invokes, such as “orange smell,” “dregs,” and “bottlecaps.” And these semantic edges growing on the words betray their ephemerality in the shifting transience of meanings, which are as fleeting as the very page on which the words are written.

The flip side of the theme of temporality in Saline is the richness of cognitive and linguistic possibilities. This theme, in fact, informs Lyon’s opening gambit in Saline. The first two poems, after a series of strange juxtapositions, culminate with a self-referential idea of endless creative possibilities. The ending of the first poem suggests that the oceanic range of such strangeness is not only for the dreamer, for “The mind can go anyplace / before sleep, you see.” The second poem echoes that kind of self-referential gesture:
is that possible
the denizens of a poem
coming through the mist whack
a curtain completely uncertain as
to how wavelengths prevail.

The plethora of perceived images paired with the realization of their evanescence is nicely expressed in the “doubted / and crowded” instant in “Red Radio Flyer”:
At the moment,
which is transient, doubted
and crowded

a tremulous lavender ball
vulnerably rotating in its
cubicle of the cosmos

But within this moment, for all its presentation to consciousness of a myriad of fleeting phenomena, the mind invokes a singular object, a “tremulous lavender ball” that is fragile and vulnerable, yet saliently present to thought, cordoned off from the rest of the universe. Lyon beautifully suggests a moment of quiet focus and reflection on an imagined object, which paradoxically seems more present than the objects that crowd around one, jockeying for attention.

Despite the proliferation and seeming confusion of images in these poems, recurring themes and motifs of traveling, death, liquidity, nothingness, presence and absence, light and dark, and language, as well as Lyons’ attention to the rich interplay of images, give Saline a centripetal energy that counters the centrifugal force of its blooming, buzzing confusion.

Moreover, in poems such as “LUNE,” Lyon demonstrates a more traditionally lyrical consistency through a focused, zen-like meditation on the reflection of the moon in an almost empty bowl of milk:

After the milk
an emergence of
magnolias framed by grooved green
and a silver spoon fits inside a gray
as the moon, of course, hangs
all day.
Turn out the light
after eating cereal in the middle of the night
in the kitchen
and suddenly the moon
gray as a flower
at the bottom of a bowl of milk.

Lyon delicately interweaves the image of a magnolia and leaves at the bottom of a bowl of milk, seen with the kitchen light on, with the image of the moon reflected in the shallow leftover milk, seen with the light off. Although this poem is more coherent than many of the others in this collection, it has in common with them the preoccupation with surface image, illusion, and the slipperiness of sensory perception.

Ending the book is Saline’s title prose poem, a tour-de-force of the mind’s intense exploration of the proliferation of real and imagined objects and social interactions, each with its own context and connotative histories, floating in and out of the senses and cognition:
                  People are realized only partially. Experienced as split forces joined with split forces in my self. From my apartment window, the length of dirty white sill joins to the whitish extended field of snow. These intrusions force a cleavage, splinter elements. Some actions are so drastic and some withdrawals so complete that it’s like a bonfire. The slow accumulation and then sudden disintegration. The blackish pile, hardly differentiated from early winter air, and vestiges of the sun, merge. Body that suddenly houses a smoldering core of feeling.
                  It’s said, trauma produces snapshots of unlinked memory. So does love.

In this poem, Lyons themes of linkage and dissolution are played out on a social plane, and the result is a beautifully sustained engagement with bewilderment as the thinking subject attempts to make sense of it all.

Kimberly Lyons’ poetry may perplex at first with its plethora of images, but a deeper meaning emerges with close attention to the ideas rebounding within the chaos. Lyons reminds us of the beauty that the reader can create within a myriad of possibilities. And her themes of disintegration and disappearance remind us of the temporality of creation: in short, a memento mori at the heart of the phantasmagorical parade.


Camille Martin, an American-Canadian poet, was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, and was a long-time resident of Louisiana before moving to Toronto. She is the author of Sonnets (Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2010) and Codes of Public Sleep (Toronto: Book Thug, 2007). Her work has been widely and internationally published in journals and translated into Spanish and German. A classical musician from an early age, she earned a Master of Music degree at the Eastman School of Music, an MFA in Poetry at the University of New Orleans, and a PhD in English at Louisiana State University. She teaches at Ryerson University.



Dear Sandy, Hello: Letters from Ted to Sandy Berrigan edited by Sandy Berrigan and Ron Padgett
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, Minn. 2010)

A brief recounting of the events leading up to these letters: Ted Berrigan met Sandy Alper in New Orleans during her first year at Tulane. After a weekend whirlwind romance they were married in Texas, stopped by the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, and then visited her parents in Florida who after making a swift negative decision towards Berrigan’s general person incarcerated Sandy in an institution for the mentally unwell. Berrigan was briskly sent out of town by local law enforcement. Having returned to New York City without his bride, Berrigan immediately begin writing to her, including her in his world…

* * *

“Your Husband Forever”: Rimbaud, The Sonnets and becoming ‘Ted Berrigan’

This collection of letters is not only (as Sandy Berrigan muses) “perhaps the longest and most intense sequence of such letters Ted [Berrigan] ever wrote” it is also (as Ron Padgett notes) “the prelude to his masterwork, The Sonnets.” These statements guarantee this collection is indispensible to all readers of Berrigan’s work quickly dispelling any concern that publishing such letters is an invasion of privacy or posthumous mistreatment of Berrigan. The material contained within serves only to bolster the argument for his central position in developing experimental poetics and does so without surrounding his quite hip streetwise rap on how one lives and goes about the practice of being a poet beneath any uncomfortable layering of academic jargon. As with the two collections of Berrigan’s talks and interviews, Talking in Tranquility and On the Level Everyday, we’re able to thankfully read Berrigan on Berrigan, getting the skivvy on his own understanding of how he went about accomplishing the writing he did as he was going about it.

That’s not to say there’s not plenty here to keep various sides of the Berrigan myth going. The beginning of his lifelong pill (amphetamine) use shows up throughout, not surprisingly, most amusingly in his Spontaneous Zen Parable from a letter dated April 23, 1962:
Dick Gallup went to the Zen master and said, “Master, speak about taking pills.” The master said, “Gallup, you got any pills?” Gallup said, “Yeah.” Then the master said, “Pills are a good thing.”

Sandy Berrigan went to the master and said, “Master, speak about taking pills.” Master said, “What’s your kick, baby?” Sandy said, “I just don’t think pills are right!” then the master said, “You are very wise. Pills are no good.”

Tom Veitch, observing these two incidents, said to the master, “God damn, master, that’s contradictory!!” The master replied, “God damn, I’m hungry, let’s go get some hash and eggs.”


                                    “The Snake.”

Notable—in addition to his use of “The Snake” as a sign-off which also occurs in Sonnet LXXVII—is Berrigan’s non-committal stance on pills, they are simultaneously both “good” and “no good,” depending on who’s asking, as Berrigan explains to Sandy, “to comment on my own parable, since I’m the master in it[…] [the master] knew that he was expected to condemn or condone… when he saw that Gallup had pills, therefore was for them, he said they were good. When he saw Sandy was against them, he said they were bad.” Berrigan believes precisely that whatever works best for you individually is what works.

At this point in life, Berrigan has been through the rigid structures of both the U.S. military and the University of Tulsa, playing by a set of imposed rules. He has decided going forward in life he’ll stick to his own rulebook. “The idea, thought, motto, joke, whatever else you want to label it, that I base my life upon, is a pure Zen doctrine, although I never read it anywhere associated with Zen. It’s ‘all those who are going to make it will, all those who aren’t, won’t.’” Importantly, he goes on to further identify poetry itself with his understanding of Zen. “Zen says nothing, gives no answers, makes you responsible. But it doesn’t say that. Words are words. What do they have to do with Zen. Zen is poetry. Zen is living. Poetry is living.” And as Berrigan repeatedly makes clear throughout the letters, poetry is to be the single most important focus and reward of his life.

There is no question that Berrigan is spending his time intensively reading, constantly searching for examples of writing he admires and openly looking for examples as to how he should go about beginning his future life as a poet. In a letter from April 3rd, 1962 he reports to Sandy:
Last night Dick [Gallup] and I made lists of ten or eleven men, literary men, whom we thought influenced our lives, and still influence them. We made the lists independently, and then compared them Here they are:

DICK                                                               ME
Francois Villon                                     Albert Camus
Thomas Wolfe                                     Percy Shelley
Albert Camus                                     Lord Byron
Walt Whitman                                     Rene Rilke
Percy Shelley                                     Ralph Emerson
Andre Gide                                     Bernard Shaw
Rene Rilke                                        Ezra Pound
Paul Goodman                                     Thomas Wolfe
Arthur Rimbaud                          Alfred Whitehead
John Milton                               Friedrich Nietzsche
                                                         Arthur Rimbaud
                                                              John Milton

The near identical lists for Gallup and Berrigan are no doubt unsurprising for those familiar with the history of their friendship (along with that of Ron Padgett and the artist Joe Brainard), these were poet friends who openly shared their notebooks and private thoughts with each other, indeed there are references in the letters to Berrigan reading through the journals of his friends and them likewise reading through his own. They as well came and went from each other’s living quarters, borrowing food and money, just as easily as words and influences.

Many of the names in the above lists occur frequently in Berrigan’s letters to Sandy, but one that should hold interest for readers of The Sonnets is Arthur Rimbaud. In a letter of March 21st, 1962 Berrigan mentions that he’s “reading Enid Starkie’s biography of Arthur Rimbaud” and in a letter the very next day, “I’m working on a translation from French to English of a long poem called ‘The Drunken Boat’ by Arthur Rimbaud.” Up until fairly recently, copies of Berrigan’s translation were few and far between to be found. The only copy I ever remember seeing being a C Press (?) edition with artwork by Joe Brainard came across while browsing the wondrous stacks of Serendipity Books in Berkeley. Thankfully, this situation changed when a copy of the poem appeared in the Translation issue of Vanitas in 2009.

Several lines in the following stanzas (this is only a sampling, there are several more phrases and lines in the poem easily recognizable) will be familiar to readers of The Sonnets:
Where, dying all the blue, the maddened flames
And stately rhythms of the sun, stronger
Than alcohol, more great than song,
Fermented the bright red bitterness of love.

I’ve seen fermenting everglade-like weirs
Deep in whose reeds great elephants decay;
I’ve seen vast oceans crashing into ruin
And calm horizons cataracting away,

Sometimes when I grow weary, feel betrayed,
The gently rolling sea sets me at rest,
Lifting her shadowy waters up for me,
And I fall on my knees, womanly.

The only traveled sea that I still dream of
Is the cold black pond where once
On a fragrant evening fraught with sadness,
I launched a boat fragile as a butterfly.

Just when Berrigan may have finished reworking his version is unclear (Vanitas supposes “circa 1963”) however it is clear that he sent drafts to Sandy during this period in 1962. While Sandy’s letters are not clearly dated, we know she was finally released for good on July 26th 1962 and in two letters written sometime prior to that date she mentions, “I read the revision of ‘The Drunken Boat.’ I feel so good that you dedicated it to me.” (No such dedication appears in the Vanitas copy.) And she writes of the “final version being more idiomatic and modern and concise—much less 19th Century I guess.”

At any rate, Berrigan’s version definitely ended up serving (as did so much of his own recent work at the time) as textual site to pillage for workings of lines to recycle into The Sonnets. The letters demonstrate some of the thoughts concerning writing poetry which he was confronting and challenging himself to overcome. Sandy writes, “I wish you could explain the various changes. Some of them affect the flow and rhythm and style a lot […] many of the good parts you left the same.” And “I think it’s good to know the reason for picking certain words over others in translation. Some sound better but there must be other reasons.” Much of this Berrigan addresses (it is difficult to know whether in response or perhaps prior to Sandy’s remarks) in a lengthy digression running through several pages of a letter written on March 27th. He immediately distances his work from Rimbaud:
My poem is not meant to be considered a translation, and is called an imitation in deference to Rimbaud. The poet often uses other material, and the test of validity as art is how the poem itself stands up to itself. […] mainly it is a poem by Ted Berrigan. I myself do not know more French than you, if as much. The poem in its final version is almost all mine, each image coming to me as a result of the organic development of the poem, not because of Rimbaud used them. I did not hesitate to use my own meter rhyme rhythm et cetera.

While with the breakthrough of Berrigan’s conception of ‘form’ evidenced by The Sonnets, such reference to “organic development” does not play as large a role in his poem-making, his preferences having given over to semi-controlled decision-based chance operations inspired to some extent by John Cage, it is possible to witness a feeling for it creep into later works where he spaces words round the page with a somewhat Black Mountain School splash of exuberance. However what is obviously being developed while he works on his Rimbaud is indeed his “own meter rhyme rhythm” which he later heavily exploits in order to create the dizzying array found within The Sonnets.

Berrigan continues in the same letter, “Honey, I’d like to talk to you a little about the poem, mostly for my own benefit, to get straight a few things in my own mind.” He then commences an exegetical sketching out of his approach in writing the poem. It’s remarkable how possible it is to read Berrigan’s reworking of “The Drunken Boat” as providing encouragement for the possibility of his breakthrough with The Sonnets (shortly to come): “That is, life is a creative process, striving for more life, life as a flowing stream endlessly moving on toward high consciousness, more life, more light. In the first stanza the “I” of the poem says that he has shed all “masters” and is on his own, trusting his own whims.” What is holding Berrigan back from his imminent breakthrough is the concern with moving “toward high consciousness,” he’s shortly to realize how “more life, more light” is to be found within his immediate needs and circumstances. With the writing of The Sonnets comes Berrigan’s utilization of the fact, as he says here to Sandy (writing of the speaker in the poem), that he will “not turn back, away from his journey, which is in itself marvelous.” By catching up with words by way of removing much of his decisive will over them, Berrigan comes in The Sonnets to revel in words as discrete substances contained within themselves allowing for them to interact with each other without his intervention.

Berrigan’s “Drunken Boat” details the immersion he himself is in the process of to become the poet ‘Ted Berrigan’ author of The Sonnets. He understands this involves sacrifice and that he must set himself apart from his own worries and concerns, likewise those of others. As he continues writing to Sandy of the speaker in “The Drunken Boat,” “He despairs and cries out, as Jesus cried that he was forsaken, ‘O let me burst, and I be lost at sea.’ But his very words deny their superficial meaning. He means to be lost from acrid romances, not lost from life. He goes on joyously. He does not look back and he regrets nothing.” Berrigan is set on his course towards becoming and living the life of the poet. He will accept no other priority, as later in life he says, “I lift my voice in song” and that is to be his sole role as he conceives it. These letters are testament to this gestation period when Berrigan is consumed with his desire to endure an overwhelming absorption of everything which he feels will push him through to a breakthrough point with poetry and “The Drunken Boat” serves as an allegorical and—as far as his recycling of specific lines and phrases show—literal launching point.

The situation of Berrigan’s marriage with Sandy—her parents temporarily incarcerating her in an attempt to annul the marriage—is yet further evidence to Berrigan of restrictions he must overcome on his path to becoming a poet. As he continues his explanation of “The Drunken Boat” to Sandy, “This poem represents to me a manifesto against my own need to hate those people whom I must not be like. Through my love for you, which in itself required a great period of self-development by me, I feel I have reached a stage where I do not have to hate [them].” Berrigan feels he is “no longer afraid of succumbing to intellectual emptiness, or cynicism based on fear, or collegiate poeticism” because as he says, “I have killed in myself these elements.” He is defiantly assertive in his awareness that he is in a period of gestation, “if I am not always up to my best self even with you, it is because I am still trying to grow, still a baby. Have patience with me, my wife, have faith in me and in us, love me, and I will grow strong for you. I shall be forever your husband.”

Berrigan doesn’t mince words when offering Sandy his advice in regards to her situation:
Get tough, honey. Get tough. Run away from the all, fast. And I’m not talking about running out of the hospital, although, I want that, too. I mean run from their outstretched hands, their offers to “talk things over rationally,” run away from sympathy with them. For now, they are the enemy. They want to be your friend. They really do. They want to help you. They want to make sure you are well-fed, clothed, and secure from pain and disease and hardship. The only catch is that you have to do it on their terms. If you don’t, then it’s the lock-up, the padded cell, the prison, the hospital. And their terms are very simple. You must kill your soul. You must destroy your spontaneity, your capacity to love, your generosity, your openness, your childishness, your big-eyed wonder at life. You must get your shoulder to the wheel, be responsible, make contributions to mankind, shape up and make money.

As always in these letters, Berrigan is constantly merging the current predicament and eventual resolution of Sandy’s incarceration over their marriage with his development as a poet. By their disapproval and intervention, her parents not only challenge Berrigan’s abilities as a suitor but also his chances of achieving the cultural freedom of the poet he aspires to be. As he tells her “Your contributions to mankind are measured by your income tax. Louis Alper [Sandy’s father] obviously makes more contribution to mankind than Ted Berrigan. Look at the record. What record? Why the only record available. The income tax report.” Berrigan consciously prepares Sandy for the transition in thinking necessitated by culture wide bias in general during this period to the lifestyle he proposes pursue.
Sandy, the deck is stacked, and so to win at this game, since we have to play, we have to have some new rules, or else a gun under the table. […] I know this stuff because my innocence is not like yours. What I have come from, going through things rather than from being beyond them. I’ve looked at these people carefully, and was very close to them once. […] I didn’t ignore them, I watched them […] I know how to play their games, and maybe I know how to beat them.

Berrigan understands everything is on the line for him. His fight for his wife is equivalent to his fight for his right to live a life of the poet. In this respect, his love for Sandy is not separate from his love for poetry. He doesn’t want to, and isn’t going to be, beholden to anyone in his service towards it. Prior to meeting Sandy, Berrigan has been sorting out his own path towards becoming a poet and from the beginning it has been with the awareness that it would only be possible if he set the terms. In a letter from March 20th he draws the explicit parallel between his path towards being a poet and the current crisis in his marriage with Sandy:
These people, the doctors, and your parents, are evil honey. […] Those people are sick sick people. They would have it that a Dick Gallup who only wants to read and study and find love, and a Ted and Sandy who want to live and work together, are sick and immature. But it is they who are doing evil. We must give them evil for evil, until we are free.

I wrote a long time ago a poem called Prayer, addressed to a fierce old prophet like poet, whose poems were giving me inspiration:

Old Father, I am young.
I am afraid. Teach me
to run, that I may learn
to fight.

Sing I would, many songs,
and many candles burn.
teach me to fall, that
I may learn to stand.

Old Warrior,
guide me now. Help me believe
the necessary lies.
Teach me to hate.

I would preserve my love.

After finishing transcribing the poem Berrigan shifts back to addressing Sandy, holding to the left hand justification of the poem, signing off on the letter while breaking his statements with line-breaks, retaining the look of a poem:
I love you, Sandy, Sandra, my eternal wife.

Your husband forever,
I love You.

Berrigan blurs his love for Sandy with his love for poetry, the latter, earlier passion equaling or even surpassing—if not at the very least buoying—the other. This is seen elsewhere in his sign-offs, as at the end of a long densely written letter from March 26th when he breaks out in jubilance, freely spacing his “love” around on the page:
                                                                                                            I love you.
I love you.

                                    I love you.

                                                                        That’s what I want this letter
                                    to say.
                                                                     I am and mean to stay
                                    your husband
                                    forever and ever,
                                                                                                            all my love,


Here is the ‘Ted Berrigan’ of the airy lines which sway across the page in later poems such as, “Many Happy Returns,” “February Air,” “Going To Chicago,” and his sections of the collaborative poem written with Anne Waldman “Memorial Day.” Sandy’s presence, both as muse and wife, however, is long gone from these later works. As Berrigan grew into his role of being the poet he matured and shed attachments that did not suit or otherwise match up well with his needs.

There is more than a hint of what the future holds for the Berrigans in these letters. Sandy herself states the predicament well in her preface to the collection, “Ted had a dream of the perfect young innocent girl who would believe in him, trust him, and admire him. The “Chris” in his Sonnets is such a figure. I think Ted hoped that I would be that person. But he always needed more: more people to love and to listen to him. I was too inexperienced to know that.” Indeed, as Padgett takes note in the appendix II Glossary of Names (which appear in the letters) Carol Clifford who later married poet Dick Gallup, “became Ted’s girlfriend while Sandy was in Jackson Memorial Hospital, unbeknownst to Sandy.” There is no need for blaming Berrigan for or lingering over the failure of his first marriage, but Sandy is certainly hitting on something in the preface when she writes, “I also realize that I wanted the book published in order to validate my presence in Ted’s life.” Aside from Berrigan’s published poem “Words for Love” which unlike the recently published version of his “Drunken Boat” does bear the dedication for Sandy, the vast majority of Berrigan’s own published writings infrequently, if at all, acknowledge any role of hers in his life as a poet.

At the end of these letters comes Scrapbook Facsimiles (available for on-line viewing here: section of scanned images of pages from a scrapbook Berrigan began to make for Sandy during this time and added to in later years. Here are snapshot photos of some of the characters who make appearances in the letters (& The Sonnets): Ted, Sandy, Marge Kepler, Anne Kepler, Joe Brainard, Lorenz Gude, Ron Padgett, and Pat Mitchell (Padgett). There are also copies of a few previously unpublished poems, juvenilia perhaps, but invaluable all the same. For instance, one page is a handwritten version of Berrigan’s unpublished poem “Prayer” (included in a letter to Sandy mentioned above) with the name of the poet Ezra Pound pasted in above along with a profile photo of Pound pasted in the upper right corner of the page. Another is a collaborative poem, a line-numbered ‘sonnet’ written with Tom Veitch. In addition, being the unbelievably terrific human being he is Ron Padgett also includes an itemized summary of the contents for all 200 pages of the notebook. In this way, the reader gets as near visceral a feel as it comes to holding the notebook itself and it importantly makes, as do the letters, for a private testimonial (now made public) to Sandy’s role as muse and love. This is also a trove of further specific sources such as Rimbaud has been shown above to be, referenced throughout the letters, which Berrigan recycles in The Sonnets. Nothing else previously published so closely documents his reading along with his walking/talking company during this critical period leading up to the composition of his important first book.

Sometimes poets are born and sometimes they’re made, occasionally as these letters show they are self-made. There are prices to be paid for all such transformations and after, once the losses have been tallied, the poet if nothing else is left with his skill to sing of them. It’s a trade off, as Berrigan fiercely laments in his poem “Red Shift.”
Alone & crowded, unhappy fate, nevertheless
            I slip softly into air
The world’s furious song flows through my costume.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco. His critical essay on Creeley's debt to Stevens is slated to appear in Fulcrum 7 anytime now. Poems and such will be appearing in the next issue of Amerarcana. This Spring Post Apollo Press will publish his "There Are People Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk": A GUSTONBOOK.



Autopsy Turvy by Thomas Fink and Maya Diablo Mason
(Meritage Press, San Franciso & St. Helena, CA, 2010)

Collaboration by two poets defies mathematical formulation: the dyad is neither duality, pas de deux, nor the textual meeting of two minds. The resultant poems generate a voice melding consciences into an emergent third. The triangulation of the two poets with the poem therefore proliferates an aggregate of sensibilities attributable to each voice and yet with space opening into an ineffable extension of each. The signature of the two poets fusing and coalescing becomes a script whose text vexes any reduction to individual subjectivities.

Often, onto the collaborative poem is conferred the peculiar conjunctive and disjunctive designs of minds in simpatico however their modes of poetic construction diverge. Yet the possibilities of filial poetry—generationally vertical or horizontal—remain under-studied. The poems in Autopsy Turvy are written by a father and daughter duo, noted poet and critic Thomas Fink and his daughter, Maya Diablo Mason. How do biology and poetry relate? Does a share of DNA render a certain kind of amalgamated style? Does the reproduction and production of poems and bodies anthropologically and poetically in relation determine the eventual ends of such art? These are certainly questions that come to mind while reading this accomplished collection.

Inevitably, clever schtick and loosey-goosey jokiness will obtain in the closeness of family and, indeed, familiarity. A few poems suffer “[a] strip of gibberish,” however, in general these poems successfully merge controlled chaos with an enriching, lively attitude to myriad subjects and interests. The Bee poem sequence showcases riddles and narratives mostly attentive to financial and family concerns. Roving across the terrain of shared and separate domains, the poems allow glimmers and insinuations of whose voice is being voiced: father? daughter? Fortunately, none of the poems are schematic or so mechanically rendered as to illuminate which lines were written by each poet or whether even individual lines were micro-collaborations. The mystery of paternity or daughterly exchange remains undecoded, arguably granting anonymity to the poems despite their acknowledged sources. The two poets become one shining, unbreakable Poet-maker and the actual strategies of collaboration left unknown. Such mystery in poetry is much needed and welcome.

Autopsy Turvy commendably brandishes a whole range of moods, rhetorical dispensations, and narrative directions. “Preshrunk Oaf Offense” prances giddily through puns and stunning disarrangements of semantic structures and appropriated text:
do solemnly
sway. I will

faithfully excrete the
offense of present

the unisex
starkness of ambush,

and will prescribe,
prostitute, and

the consternation (constipation)
of the unkempt

statesman. Go help
me gobble.

Here the mild naughtiness of scatological humor domestically emplaced joins with a larger political/historical commentary, the “offense of present.” It is a playful riff that speaks to localized and more generalized territory. The playful reserves exemplified here can also be trained into tender expressions which underscore familial bonds with crafty poetic license. “Inheritance” is a strong case in point:
You left your body at home
when you headed for college.
It would have been vestigial there.

It was July,
so I was naked.

I tried it on,
Wanting to know what it felt like
to dance in it.

The animation of relationship here foregrounds the possession and dispossession of family in its developments and dispersals. Absence and presence are tethered to a ghostliness underscored by the ghosts of the poets themselves for whom a precise marker of identity cannot be ascribed. So again, multiple perspectives fly from the two unstably paired poetic voices and the poem-as-experiment (after all, collaboration pressurizes the experimental energies of poetry-making) confirms the unflagging creative energies of these two poets.

As mentioned, we can never perform an autopsy on Autopsy Turvy to extract determinate identities. I know and admire Fink’s individually-written poems. This is the first occasion I have enjoyed Maya Diablo Mason’s work. Who is who, which is which, and who is the better maker? Impossible, qualitatively, to say. As Stephen Dedalus insists in Ulysses: “Paternity is legal fiction.” So perhaps daughter has outrun father or father still guides the poetic path. The point, all in all, is moot. Assured poems rely on mastery and not justifications and novelties: Autopsy Turvy is a volume of fully-fledged, trickster-spirited verse regardless of the author’s origins and relations. Collectively and/or separately, the poems of Fink and Diablo Mason will be very welcome in the future.


Jon Curley's first collection, New Shadows, was released last year by Dos Madres Press. His critical study, Poets and Partitions: Confronting Communal Identities in Northern Ireland, will be published next year. He lives in New Jersey, where he teaches in the Humanities Department of New Jersey Insitute of Technology.



Had Slaves by Catherine Sasanov
(Firewheel Editions, Danbury, CT, 2010)

This book writes itself—by this, I mean that there’s a sense of urgency in the words rushing out to imprint pages into life.

There’s a rush similar to what one may glean from certain forcefully-created “first draft-last draft” type of poems. Such energy, thus, is even more impressive in Catherine Sasanov’s Had Slaves because the poems resulted from four years of deep research into the family history of the poet—a history that began when Sasanov discovered her ancestral slaveholding past.

After Sasanov stumbled across the words, “had slaves,” in family papers, she embarked on researching (in the publisher’s press release words), the “slaveholding among her Missouri ancestors and the fragmented evidence left behind of the 11 men, women, and children held in their bondage…Had Slaves pieces together lives endured from slavery to Jim Crow across a landscape lost beneath big box stores, subdivisions, and tourist sites. Avoiding Gone With the Wind stereotype, Sasanov takes her readers to slavery’s less expected locale: where big house means log cabin and plantation is a small grain farm with tarantulas mating in the corn. An unflinching look…”

Reading through the poems, one gets the feeling that these poems’ voices have been waiting—longing!—to be heard for a long time. The feeling escalates as one reads deeper into the collection. Such a sense is also testimony to the book’s history; here’s an excerpt from an interview she did with Ellen Steinbaum:
“I’ve come to my subject as a first generation northerner on my father’s side. Except for two pieces of paper in my family's possession (an 1857 will where my ggg-grandfather, Richard Steele, leaves nine men, women, and children to his family members, and a note left by an elderly cousin where the words had slaves appear) there were no other written or spoken traces in my home of my bloodline's involvement with slaveholding. For that matter, except for the mention of a handful of events, the lives of my white ancestors were shrouded in silence, too. As if the past couldn't endure the journey from Springfield, Missouri, to Rockford, Illinois, the city my father settled in after WWII and where I was born and raised.

“It still takes my breath away to think that I could have gone to my grave without any idea of my family's slaveholding past, that something so terrible could have been swallowed up in silence. It didn’t help that I also grew up with a very ‘Gone With the Wind’ idea of the landscape it took to nurture slavery. A small Ozarks grain farm with tarantulas mating in the corn wasn’t my idea of Tara. As if slavery couldn’t survive outside of an environment rich in moonlight, magnolias, Spanish moss, oak alleys, Southern belles, mammy, and the big house. These revelations really drove me to work against myth and bad history regarding where slavery took place, and who was involved in it. God-fearing ministers held slaves. Revolutionary War soldiers fighting for freedom owned them. Small landowners and men who supported the Union troops during the Civil War kept them. Examples of all four of these slaveholders exist in my bloodline alone.

“I traveled to Southwest Missouri in 2006 to do field and archive research, trying to find out what happened to the Steele slaves and freedmen. If I hadn’t come to the area already knowing that slavery was a part of its landscape, I would never have guessed it. Evidence that the black Steeles ever existed kept coming back paper, kept coming down archival, since every visual trace of slavery has been passively or actively eradicated from Greene County except in words. The evidence lurks in census, probate, and court documents, in business ledgers, doctor’s notes, bills of sale, tax lists, wills, appraisal sheets, death certificates, land deeds, Civil War pension files, marriage licenses, and plat maps. Paper as a kind of amber preserving the past.

So let’s have some poems speak on behalf of themselves…and those whose blood and flesh first created their lives:
Four Hundred Acres of Missouri

            For Flora, her children Ben and Eliza, 1833

The first time you saw all of it, did your eyes gag, dreaming of escape? Row on row of oats and corn—all muffle and impede. Four hundred acres of Missouri. World precisely measured out with no perceptible edge. Misery loves its regional variations, but stays partial to the whip, a white man in a slave girl’s bed, the flaying of a back. Where are my ancestors’ hands in this? All they hold for me to see: Bibles and a walking stick. Antique empty air. Their tintypes smeared with lockjaw dreams (cracked emulsion, dirty metal): The master’s hands sliced open on his photo. Orders caged-up in his teeth. Pure reverie. Pure didn’t happen. Like your escape through all the stunted sustenance, what wouldn’t even reach the shoulders. Like the man with the map inside his head waiting for you in the corn.

            For Eliza

Did it start with casual inquiries about your health? Barely concealed greed? A prayer the old man would die before you’re out of prime? The heir wondering which you’d be: Girl to give birth to a bit of profit? Barren breeding stock? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Isn’t that what old masters say just before they die? So your new one comes with his receipt: Received of A.A. Young, John P.: The girl named in the will. That name’s Eliza, but all he thinks if filly, maybe mare; is wealth to reproduce itself. He cares. Did he take his long, hard look between your legs? Was he born to father a little property out behind the barn?

The effect of research, more discoveries, naturally can’t help but affect the researcher…and such also shows up—often movingly—in the poems:
Easter, Reconstructed

Down the cold hall of daguerreotypes

I searched out every piece of anonymous metal
looking for your face. Sought proof
that someone treasured you
if only on

a bit of tin.

But you came line-drawn,
out of an ink gone Rorschach.

A woman subject to interpretation.

The census taker as itinerant artist, pinning down
one final glimpse of you.

Or the first four stanzas of this poem:
Crude Music
            For Eliza, Isaac, Daniel, and Diana

And what of my own hands in this?

I finally come to flesh you
out, flesh you

into what are not

unimaginable situations

This is fraught stuff. Here’s another poem in its entirety:
Revisionist (History)

            The negro Mammy was no fiction of a later day novelist, but genuine, gentle, untiring, faithful…on her broad shoulders was carried the generation which made the early history of Missouri fascinating and great.
            Carl B. Boyer, white interviewer
            Slave Narratives: Missouri, 1936-1938

Let me herd the heirs
into the yard,

so at that distance, this
can pass for prayer:

Three women standing
around the master’s bed,

prodding the old man
with their tongues,

exultant that he’s dead.


The source of many poems—often directly “found” from archives—is at times incomplete. Sasanov notes that
Paper as a kind of amber preserving the past. Its data are often untrustworthy, sometimes on purpose, sometimes from sloppiness. And while I logically knew that the information I looked at translated into human beings, the language of slavery is often constructed to make it easy for readers to distance themselves from the people being discussed. They can never be clearly envisioned.

“In writing ‘Had Slaves,’ I became something of a forensic anthropologist, fleshing out the bare boned, fragmented information I was uncovering about the individuals my ancestors owned. I wanted to make real that it was lives my family held in bondage, not a bit of cursive on a page, or a group of names that could be lumped into a faceless, unindividuated mass called slaves. At the same time, I wanted to reflect on how difficult it is to resurrect the dead when one works within the straitjacket of a shamed history: the paucity of details, lack of images of the people one is discussing, and nothing in their own words.

Sasanov says that the poem that most “embodies” such “absence” is the shortest in the book, something “written out of my knowing only that 19-year-old Steele slave Edmund was bequeathed by Richard Steele to his eldest son, a man who’d come up from Tennessee to collect him.
Willed, Bequeathed: Edmund, Walked Towards Tennessee,
Is Never Seen Again: September 1860

The sky, the bloody
meat of it,
            sutures itself
with geese

When I first read through the book, I hadn’t yet read the interview with Sasanov and I recall being most impressed by the above poem, admiring the poet’s technique of imagism. And it is due to her poetic prowess that Sasanov is able to do justice to her subject matter. She knows when to get out of the way.

And she also knows when to allow her presence to infuse the poem, for instance this excerpt from the first poem “Sitting at the Mouth of the Great Slave Trading Route, the Slaveholder’s Great-Great Granddaughter Pens Her Preface to the Text":
                                                            Watch how
in lieu of herding slaves,
                                    my hands herd words
                                                     across the page,

And I hold back
                                    whole trains of thought
                                                                        with just a speck of ink.

The combination of caesuras and the placement of the phrases across the page facilitate the notion of “herding slaves.”

Even when it’s difficult to create a poetry collection, that difficulty in the act of creation doesn’t always rise to the surface. In Had Slaves, I felt the complicated turmoil that the poet must have undergone as she created these poems. And why not? As the author says,
“Slavery officially ended in the 1860s, but many of the people who survived it lived deep into the twentieth century, nipping at the heels of my birth. It staggers me that John D. Steele, the youngest slave owned by my family when the Civil War ended, died only four years before I was born."

Had Slaves is important for expanding the light on the legacy of American slavery. It is a most moving testament.

Had Slaves not only has my highest recommendation—these poems, and its author, command Respect.


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010) is reviewed by Amazon top-notch reviewer Grady Harp over HERE, William Allegrezza over at p-ramblings HERE and by Leny M. Strobel at Moria Poetry HERE. Mr. Harp also reviews her NOTA BENE EISWEIN over HERE. If the former book gets you curious, please note that its publisher Marsh Hawk Press is supporting a fundraiser for Haiti relief by giving a free copy if you order at least $15 worth of booklets through the Hay(na)ku for Haiti fundraiser; as THE THORN ROSARY is priced retail at $19.95, this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.



Selected Poems of Garcilaso de la Vega edited and translated by John Dent-Young
(The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2009)

Although, as Dent-Young in his introduction states, Garcilaso de la Vega’s poetry was “the reverse of popular, in the more technical sense of the word, being inspired by literary and foreign models”, with their publication “in 1543, seven years after his death, he has been one of Spain’s most popular and critically acclaimed poets” whose poetry “changed the course of Spanish literature.”(1)

This may not have been the case and de la Vega may have been just another soldier poet trying to entice the ladies with his wit and charm were it not for his nephew. A member of Emperor Charles I’s court, de la Vega was preparing to join up with Charles’s forces in their campaign against the Turks, when he was requested to witness his nephew’s wedding. His nephew being only fourteen, this was an arranged marriage through which it was hoped two powerful families would be united. Unfortunately, this marriage had not received royal sanction and, as a result, de la Vega was banished from Spain, after first spending some time imprisoned, following which he was assigned to serve under Don Pedro de Toledo who was the new viceroy of Naples. There, “he met Italian and Spanish humanists and came into contact with the new, post-Petrarchan generation of Italian poets: Pietro Bembo, Sannazaro, Tansillo, and Bernardo Tasso.”(8) This fortuitous contact led to his prominence as an innovative poet, the main innovation being “the introduction into Spanish of the verse forms of the Italians, their sonnets and canzone, their tersearima and ottava rima and above all the hendecasyllable.”(1-2)

Dent-Young has grouped the poems into types. He begins with a selection of ‘Sonnets’. He then continues with ‘Songs’, then ‘Elegies and Epistle to Boscan’, before completing with ‘Eclogues’. There are also two appendices.

We are fortunate that this is a bilingual edition. Translation from Spanish to English is incapable of capturing the intricate rhyme scheme of the original. De la Vega uses a variety of forms in his sonnets although all consist of two quatrains followed by two triplets. The predominant variation occurs within the triplets with that in the quatrain sometimes being quite redundant. In sonnets I and XI, for example, de la Vega creates a monody, each ending exactly the same. The rest of those included are abba abba. However, when we come to the sextets, we have: cde dce – I, XXIII, XXX, XXXIII; cde cde – V, XIII, XVII, XXV, XXXII, XXXV; cdc dcd – X, XI; and one very idiosyncratic one –XXXVII with the scheme cde efd. Subject matter varies as well, de la Vega equally adept at writing about war as about love.

For example, here is Sonnet XXIII:
While colors of the lily and the rose
are displayed within the outline of your face,
and with that look, both passionate and chaste,
storms grow still in the clear light of your eyes;

and while your hair that seems to have been mined
from seams of gold, and seeming too in flight
about that neck, so white, so bravely upright,
is moved and spread and scattered by the wind,

seize the sweet fruits of your joyous spring,
now, before angry time creates a waste,
summoning snow to hide the glorious summit;

the rose will wither in the icy blast
and fickle time will alter everything,
if only to be constant in its habit.(43)

That insipid internal rhyme found in the third line of the second quatrain is no fault of the translator as it is present in the original. Line length varies considerably in the original as well from 11 to 15 syllables.

And here is Sonnet XXX subtitled ‘To Boscán from La Goleta’:
Arms, Boscán, and the fury of rampant Mars,
that, cultivating with their modern power
the soil of Africa, persuade the empire
of Rome to burgeon in these parts once more,

have reawakened, brought again to mind,
Italy’s art, Italy’s ancient valor
by means of which, with gallant deeds and power,
Africa was laid low from end to end.

Here, where once the Romans, looting and burning,
kindled profligate flames that left the whole
of Carthage nothing but a name alone,

love invades my thoughts, turning and returning,
to torture and set fire to the anxious soul,
and I in tears and ashes am undone.

The Spanish Inquisition, it must be recalled, began in 1478 (interestingly, it was never officially ended until 1834). Is it this that imbues this sonnet with imagery of flames? Was de la Vega denouncing the auto da fe with his use of the word ‘profligate’ using the image of Carthage to mask his denunciation? It must also be considered that there was a sizable Moorish component to the population of Spain in de la Vega’s time and that the Moors were originally from northern Africa, probably from the same area as Carthage.

Not that they aren’t interesting, but we’ll skip the canciónes, or songs, and move directly to the Elegies and Epistle for Boscán. There are two elegies, Dent-Young stating that the second “is more of an epistle than an elegy”(76), both of which were written in a form of terza rima which, in Spain, was known as a tercetos encadenados, or ‘linked tercet’. The rhyme structure of both is aba bcb cdc dad etc. Dent-Young makes a valiant attempt to capture that structure in his translation of Elegy II:
Here, Boscán, where the great Mantuan locates
the ashes of old Anchises, the illustrious
Trojan, whose name and fame he celebrates
            all of us are gathered under the glorious
banners of the present-day African
Caesar, we who returned victorious;
            but we differ in our aims, for some can
hardly wait to gather in the harvest,
to reap the crop that with our sweat was sown,
            while others, who say that virtue is their friend(99)

We can see that at this point he begins to lose it. The translation doesn’t indent the first line which the original does. In fact, the first line of every tercet is indented in both which would appear then to be a convention making it possible for the reader to follow the complex structure. The Epistle to Boscan exists in a different world. As Dent-Young states, it is “the first poem in Spanish written in endecasilabos sueltos, or ‘blank verse’ (though this equates it with the Latin hexameter rather than Elizabethan blank verse).” As this innovation will not be detectable from the English translation, we will move on to the last part of the book, Eclogues, which should prove an interesting analysis given that we have a modern day eclogue, Lisa Robertson’s XEclogue.

Dent-Young completes his translations with three eclogues, He indicates that he has “kept them in their traditional order, though, rather confusingly Eclogue II as written first.” He introduces Eclogue I through an apologia: “It has a complicated rhyme scheme, which I have not tried to follow, but I have kept to the pattern of long and short lines (in the original, hendecasyllables and heptasyllables).” To capture this, the entirety of a stanza, in this case the first, needs quoting:
Of two shepherd’s melodious laments,
Salicio’s and also Nemoroso’s,
I shall sing, reproducing their complaints;
to that delicious song the curious sheep
listened, forgetful of the joys of feeding,
while they attended to the tale of love.
            You, who through your deeds have earned
            a worldwide reputation
            and title beyond compare,
whether at this moment given over
entirely to the government of your realm
of Alba, or whether engaged elsewhere
            resplendent in your armor,
taking the warlike role of Mars on earth,(121)

He begins his discussion of Eclogue II with another apologia: “In Eclogue II, which has 1,885 lines, I have made extensive cuts, but I have tried to provide enough to allow comparisons with the other eclogues...The whole eclogue is written in a variety of verse forms, including a long section with internal rhyme. It is also a mixture of genres, the history of the house of Alba being Garcilaso’s nearest approach to epic.” Again, the opening lines are:
            Even in the depths of winter, the water
of this clear spring is mild and sweet, while in
the summer, snow itself’s not cooler.
            O limpid stream, how clearly when I look in
your water I see in memory the day
that has my soul still shivering and burning!
            In your transparency I saw my joy
become all muddled and confused; when I
next saw you I lost my true companion.(149)

Of the final poem, Eclogue III, he states: “it is thought that it still awaited a final revision at the time of his death. It is written in octave real, and I have attempted, where possible, to follow the rhyme scheme (abababcc).”(119) We can see the effect of this in the first stanza:
That pure and honorable sense of duty,
illustrious and most beautiful Maria,
I have had to celebrate your beauty,
your wit and intelligence and your rare
quality, despite the adverse destiny
that forces me to turn my steps elsewhere,
will always be in me as firmly fixed
as the body and the soul are intermixed.(181)

In completion of this work, Dent-Young has provided two appendices. The first contains two coplas. The second, a letter from him to Boscán and used as the prologue to Boscán’s translation of Castiglione’s The Courtier. He also provides extensive notes to each of the translations.

Although we cannot know what it was that didn’t make its way into the selection (unless we speak medieval Spanish and have access to the source documents all of which is doubtful for the average reader), we can certainly appreciate what did – which is an excellent sampling of de la Vega’s poetry and the genres in which he wrote. For this, we should be thankful.


John Herbert Cunningham is the host of Speaking of Poets – a half-hour radio show on Sundays on CKUW 95.9 FM. He resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where he writes poetry, reviews and interviews. He publishes regularly in half a dozen literary magazines in Canada and the same number in the U.S. He is also a multi-instrumentalist with the free jazz group ECMW – Experimental Creative Music Workshop. He is currently studying the alto sax, the Chinese flute and the darbouka.