Monday, September 29, 2014

Mirjana Mrkela, Escargots Sour

Mirjana Mrkela:

At A Reading, painting by David Rogers


Podignut je zastor, širom je otvoren prozor
I mirisi su pobjegli na ulicu.
Ne voli to svatko
I ne sprema svatko na taj način.
Bit će to gozba za dvije osamljene žene,
Puževi na kiselo, na njihov način.
Blago njima, one će se gostiti!
Da se okrijepe, a ne da se napiju.
One su uvijek postupale na svoj način.
Navikle su i obilovati i oskudijevati
I jesti i ispljuniti
I kajanja su imale nekoliko.


The curtain’s up, the window opened wide
And the aromas have escaped to the street.
Not everyone loves the dish
Not everyone prepares it the same way.
This will be a banquet for two lonely women,
escargots sour, made their way.
Good for them, for they shall feast!
And get refreshed, but not drunk.
Always they've done it their way.
Being used to both, having plenty and not having enough
Eating and spitting out
And regrets they’ve had but a few.

Translated into English from Croatian
by Boris Gregoric

Mirjana Mrkela  is a contemporary Croatian poet.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Contemporary Croatian Prose: Boris Greiner, Edo Popovic

Boris Greiner:

Life in the Attic

Petikat, Zagreb, 2006.

leaves of life, sketch bg

A house observed from the side. To everyone, except its dweller, it is important how it looks from the outside. Like one’s car: how does it look on the outside. When you drive, you don’t see it. And you own it so you can drive it. No, everything has to look some way or another. It is not clear why governments insist that cars cannot be motley-colored. This notion falls behind the present development of the civilization. It would seem natural to have one-colored automobiles on special demand.

If we let our imagination run loose, in some brighter future, in some Seventeenth International, they could all be white. All white Citroens, white Fiats and Škodas. In the summer, the white creeks would flow into a white river that would then flow to a blue ocean. One should also think about how we are seen from above. Say if there was a global agreement –all the means of transportation would have to be white. Like ships. And all the governments would have to obey. What the civilization lacks permanently is some type of common regulation.

To show weakness or feebleness in overcoming oneself, one becomes more effective in an elementary situation. Say, a southern shore. A tempest is brewing. At twilight, a solitary house. One room. Inside, the aroma of the freshly ground coffee. A candle, an open notebook and a sharpened pencil. From the horizon a curtain visibly draws nearer. The rain becomes a waterfall and the clouds pour down into the sea. It is big; it encompasses the entire point of view. The sea is even bigger. To an onlooker, it seems like that there’s too much rain. And that below all that water must exist a nugget of salt. An immense nugget however. The sea howls, the wind beats, the rain pours, the hand writes. “The evening of the nine and thirtieth. In vain the lightning flashes, in vain there’s a lull over the sea; the books, the notebooks, in vain. In vain, the years of hunger, the lime light, the rest from everything. In vain, the truth about the necessity of emptiness; in vain the cosmic spectacle; in vain the omnipotence of the positive thinking. In vain, the realization that an answer lies in patience, in expecting nothing bigger. And if it does not come, it is all in vain.”

It is easier to be concise in winter. Especially if the heating does not work and it is only a matter of time when the united minus degrees will break through the layers of clothes. Extensive passages through the scenes of the afternoons in December are rare. In a case a writer is a little fatter, I shall use an euphemism: the logs burnt down to the nails. A thinner one has got hardly enough time even for that, merely a litote: a black in Greenland. And he does not care at all about the spoiled readers, colleagues and well-bred theoreticians. Besides, don’t the epochs change on his skin; is the testimony not shaping under his fingers…? Observing precisely and relentlessly the contemporary, he creates history. The one who is more convinced of his truth is the one who is trusted more. A writer accepts the fact: the degree of man’s equalness to his truth is directly proportionate to the degree of declaring such truth to be universal. This dreadful weapon is now in the right hands. A writer pulls his legs away from the cooled stove, determined to find the frame of totality: what is crucial is warmth.

Life in the attic teaches the distinction among the seasons according to the sound of rain on the tiles. Summer is particularly easy to recognize. The roof is blanketed from above by water projectiles of the highest caliber. The tiles are breaking; the drops are like lasers that drill through the paperboard insulation; they are not slowed at all by wooden casting; a salvo drives through the ceramic wool like a rocket going through fog; a steamy dam made of thick nylon gives in under the line of fire. But it doesn’t give up. Like a bullet-proof vest it prevents the penetration, only now and again the force of the blow breaks a piece off the ceiling.

Life in the attic teaches the distinction among the seasons by color of the leaves in tree-boughs. Fall is particularly easy to recognize. At that time through the yellowness of the highest intensity pours in through the window. White chimneys are covered with a broad brush; the old, gray caps; the colorful albums of co-existence; the locked labs; hello! the abandoned frequencies yellowing. Yellow waves conquer the filled shelves, covering black and white pages, and soaking the forgotten sensations. Nothing resists the color of the fall. The battle has been lost. Such is the state of things against which there’s an uprising.

Because life in the attic teaches that one should remain for ever faithful to those tasks that are being lost before hand.

Translated by Boris Gregoric

Boris Greiner (1957): is a Croatian designer, filmmaker, critic and writer.  This excerpt from his book of short prose 'Life in the Attic'.  

Edo Popović,

on the road


Fuck, Tamara said, where are you?
That’s Tamara for you. No hi, what’s up, how’s your head, heart, teeth, liver, right to it, in medias res, man. What could I told her where I was in the past month? The truth.
I don’t know, I said.
You don’t know? You were gone for a month, I called, went nuts, you could have, you idiot, let me know you were traveling. By the way, where were you?
I don’t know, I repeated despondently.
Tamara is a master in uncovering one's shenanigans, she doesn’t have to look you in the face to figure out you’re up to something; it’s enough for her to hear your voice, she’s got that invisible talent. And so now. She figured it out I was not up to anything good.  I felt she’s got it, and there was hush on the other side of the wire, a pause before an anxiety attack.
It’s nothing, I said, this time brightly, wanting to fix the situation. I called myself at home, I sent myself a mail; I rang the door bell and knocked on the door, and nothing. It must be I really have been gone some place.
You don’t say, she said. Can you come over?
There was no asking in Tamara’s voice, but a command, unobtrusive, gently intoned, but still a command, which befitted a person like her.
Yes, now.
I am not sure that I am in any sort of show up mode, I said.
You better be, she said.

Tamara is an Armenian princess, see, but you surely won’t hear it from her, she doesn’t talk about it aloud. Her father, Adam Atamian, passes off as forestry engineer. On the grave of her mother Christina, up at the Mirogoj cemetery, there are no royal markings, they simply don’t want publicity and all that, and you know people, always starved for sensations and the rest. Not even to me did Tamara ever admit it, but it could not pass my scrutiny. The demeanor, the moves, the facial features, the eyes, the timber of the voice —a spiting image of an Armenian princess. Besides, the very occupation of the old Adam looked suspicious —a forester! Isn’t that a preferred occupation of the von Habsburgs? So if it was good for Austrian nobility surely it would be good for the Armenian also? So, they couldn’t fool me with that, I could only never understand why did Tamara marry me. I am not at all a type that blue bloods would have a crush on, there’s nothing in me, on me or around me which could possibly had attracted an Armenian princess; I say it frankly, I look at myself every morning in the mirror, I eavesdrop my thoughts and all of that, and the only reasonable explanation I’ve found was that princesses have got their whims.
Tamara opens the door and scans me. She seems pleased; she kisses my cheek and lets me in.
Dad and David are outside, she says, and I twitch.
But they’ll be back soon, she adds.
I see, I say.
You see nothing, she says.
We sit on a terrace that was made into a winter garden. There are different plants on the terrace, and they look calm, content, because old Adam, besides watering and digging around them, talks to them for hours. Hey, babe, how’s love nowadays, so he talks to a yucca plant and she gets all aflutter with gladness, who wouldn’t. On the wall, there are framed photographs of trees and plants with captions. German Oak. Atriplex prostrata. Marchanthia polymorpha. It looks so quiet here. Even that hysterically red Atriplex prostrata exudes peace and quiet. That’s how paradise must look; fuck, only some animals are missing.
I have no idea, I say, I have nothing to say, I simply skipped this fucking month.
Shit, Tamara says. Would you like a glass of wine?
So, the darkening, Tamara says pouring wine into glasses for water made of thick glass, because she doesn’t really give a damn about propriety.
I don’t know, I say. Doctor Galin speaks of a spiral. Something like the spiral stairwell, except you move neither up nor down, but you spin in a circle on the certain level. You live a normal life, but your brain doesn’t register it. He claims it’s a consequence of some depressive anxiety syndrome. Nonsense.
And it’s not one of your…
My little games?
Tamara nods. I pull a small metal box from my pocket.
Fleur de Savane, Tamara says with the perfect French accent: that’s the water seal of nobility, isn't it?  Since when you smoke that?
Not long ago, I light a cigarillo, puff a small cloud of smoke and observe how it strives up to its heavenly brothers, without having a clue that between them now stands a glassed roof.
Phooey, it stinks.
How can you say that to a flower? I look at Tamara. And it’s not my little game, besides why would I make it up?
And what does Galin say, will that repeat itself?
He doesn’t know. Frankly, he thinks I am making trouble.
Fuck, Tamara said in awe, with you nothing can pass without complications. You remember when you once went to the restroom and out of the blue that shoe cupboard fell on you?
It’s true.
Or when at the flea market you bought that little box, and inside was a living scorpion.
That’s true too. Tamara was on a roll with these silly situations I found myself in, and who knows for how long she’d enumerate them if the old man and David did not show up.
David got a haircut since I’ve seen him last.
Hi, Dad, he says.
Hi, David, I say to him.
We look at each other reservedly like two men who know the other side well, but don’t meet too often and have nothing much to say to each other. For him I am more like a person from the photographs Tamara tells him about, somebody like a comic book character. A positive one, I presume, but only a character named Dad. For me he’s not a comic book character, but a source of discomfort, and that’s why I don’t call him son. It wouldn’t be fair on my end, no. Besides, how can a stunted child, what Tamara claims it’s me, can call anyone his son? Same manner, I’ve never called Tamara my wife, but not because of the integrity or the underdevelopment, but because it sounded too vulgar. My wife. My automobile. My dog. Fine.
I look at David and think that he turned out pretty because we haven’t done it on purpose. That night we haven’t had any intentions as to that question, no pretenses or similar, and he must have been conceived right that night in the forest of carob trees full of some strange chemistry and lightning in the air. Tamara was like the liquid silk, while my heart was breaking my ribs, I was in shambles, I had had hard period behind me, it didn’t seemed like anything would change, but there were moments when I could forget certain things which were worth forgetting and some other things, like when you wipe off a view in front of your eyes with the windshield wiper but some milky mist remains, and for an instant it looks like that there might be a chance, that something new will come, something yet unseen, a view which would make your heart beat differently, and your muscles move in some new excitement, but old Adam pushes in this reminiscence and asks what do I think of someone making it to the world cup.
What world cup? I ask, keeping my eyes on David. Who’s going to the world cup?
David shrugs his shoulders.
Well, our football players, the old one says impatiently, last night we beat the Slovenes, didn’t you see the match?
Ah, that’s why there were shots in the neighborhood, I say asking David:
Have you seen the match?
Not at all, he waves his hand, I played the Play Station.
We smashed them, the old one says.
For an heir of the Armenian kings, I tell him, you surely are one keen Croat.
No offense, Kalda, but I’ve said it only to make contact, and that’s always a problem to me when you are in question.
No worry, I say, whole life is ahead of us.
Besides, he says, that thing with the kings, it’s a stupid joke, and you are dull, always repeating it.
Keep talking, I say, I know well enough who you are.

There’s something in the house of the Atamanians’, something that gives a feeling that here nothing bad can happen to one. All the brakes come loose, you start looking your true self, which is the one you should have been. You talk to Tamara, you look at David immersed in a game, you tease old Adam, you feel good, and you really begin to believe that there’s a good chance that this might repeat itself tomorrow, again and again, if you catch my drift. But then Tamara says something, something for which none of them need special clarifying, for example ‘should we do Ligreto’? At that David beams, the forester also becomes livelier, and you ask yourself, fuck, what’s a Ligreto, what’s happening around here, then you plug in you are actually plugged out, plugged out of their lives, and that meant it is time to leave. You get up, while David asks ‘you don’t want to Ligreto with us’? Next time, you tell him and your hand reaches toward his head, but you’re already in your old skin, in the good old fucked-up skin, clammed up, and the hand stops half-ways; you think how you’ve never gone more than half the distance toward David, you couldn’t have, those paths remained unfamiliar to you, and when you did try to come closer to him, you’ve always suffered, got lost, you strayed, flared, got stuck, you feared and in the end gave up, and when Tamara closes the door behind you, you feel like crying, but not like when you look at your son’s wounds; you feel like crying like when you are falling through some music, that completely imbued and lifted you, and you are hovering knowing that the music will stop in the next instant, that you too will fall with its last sound, that’s how you feel.

Translated by Boris Gregoric

Edo Popović (1957): is an avid hiker and a storyteller from Croatia.  This excerpt from the novel Oči (Eyes, 2007).


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Boris Gregoric: Chroma

Boris Gregoric


Light My Fire, Borisse (digital sketch)

Der chromatisch leuchtende gelbe Gürtel auf einem Bild Jacopo Pontormos, der ihm eines Samstags durch den Kopf gegangen war, als durch den mittelalterlichen Kern der Altstadt spaziert war. Er trug so viel Leben, so viel Vitalität in sich! Nein, nur nicht auf ewig eingesperrt sein in die zwei Dimensionen eines morschen Kirchendaches! Ein Knabe, in der Mitte erwacht, am offenen Fenster, bemerkt eben den grellgelben Gürtel, wie er schwebt und sich rasch die leeren Gassen des Städtchens hinunter bewegt: erschauernd muss der Junge lachen, mit Augen ohne die geringste Angst!

Unser Süden hingegen scheint, malerisch betrachtet, nie ein Gefühl für die Farbe entwickelt zu haben, die dem italienischen Maler des Mittelalters angeboren ist. Auf den Bildern unserer Maler erstickt das Licht in dunklen Kontrasten, in der Wahl der Farben, die selten harmonisch sind und in Richtung einer chromatischen Harmonie gehen, wie wir sie bei dem Italiener fast natürlich finden. Ähnliche Farbenblindheit stellen wir bei mazedonischen, serbischen und slowenischen Malern fest. Ihre Bilder sind so oft voll Erdhaftigkeit und Dunkelheit; nur manch ein Jovan Bijelić scheint mit einem spezifischen Licht zu atmen. Kennzeichnend auch für eine Reihe Srijemer Veduten von Sava Šumanović, aber ... Mangel an Farbe stellen wir also bei der Mehrzahl der mazedonischen und slowenischen pictores fest ... Ist das immer so? Gibt es keine Ausnahmen ... Slava Raškaj, Josip Vaništa, Ferdo Kovačević ...

Aber der Mangel an Gefühl für die Farbe ist nirgends so ausgeprägt wie bei den englischen Malern. Welch schreiender, schizophrener Chromatismus! Seien es die sophistischen, aber überladenen Präraffaeliten, seien es die hässlichen Bilder Bacons oder Sutherlands, die hinreichen, einem Menschen ausgeprägten Geschmacks das Mittagessen zu verderben.

Malerei ist somit nicht etwas, was man sich einfach mit der obligaten rigueur zeichnerischer Fertigkeit erschließt, sondern bedeutet in erster Linie ein komplexes chromatisches Problem. Eine Frage, deren Antwort, wie bei vielem anderen, möglicherweise in der Genetik von Volk und Rasse liegt.

Wir zum Beispiel würden auf die Himmelsbläue gern einen Regenbogen mit den vibranten Farben von der Palette Jacopo Pontormos malen! Einen Regenbogen, der die Weiterführung der Tradition festlicher purpurner Umhänge, florentinischer Traubenlese und orangenfarbener Füchse wäre, die sich gern am Morgen zeigen, auf den Hängen taufrischer hymnischer Weinberge ...

Auf der anderen Seite ringen jene finsteren, gequälten Erdfarben und kämpfen um die Vorherrschaft auf der Leinwand ... Malerei ist also auch der tiefe Widerschein der Mentalität und des Geistes einer Nation. Mehr als der Fußball. Uns scheint paradoxerweise die Erfahrung des milden mediterranen Himmels abzugehen! Wir haben Dalmatien, aber es ist, als gäbe es nicht genügend Licht auf den Leinwänden seiner Maler! Wir finden Erde, Bitterkeit, Kampf, aber wenig Sonne. Es gibt keine Transparenz, kein lumen, wie es die raffinierten nordischen Maler kennen, der Schwede Zorn oder der Däne Hammershoi etwa. Kaum greifbar ihre ätherischen Wesen ...

Wir sind grob, aber nicht von der Grobheit und Ungeschlachtheit der Flamen oder der Dumpfheit der Deutschen. Das Meer auf den Bildern unserer Maler ist schwer, es fehlt das Fluide der Luft und des Wassers. Vidović scheint absichtlich jede Freude am Licht in sich zu ersticken, indem er sich in die Dunkelheit seines Ateliers verschließt. Klement Crnčić gelingt es irgendwie, das küstenländische Flimmern zu erfassen, herauszuspringen aus der Schwere der Gravidität, aber auch da gibt es beleibe keine Orgie des Lichts. Die gelingt für Momente Uzelac, Jurkić, Raškaj. Es ist kein Zufall, dass sich unser berühmtes Malergestirn den Namen Zemlja (‚Erde’) gab. Vielleicht kennt uns die Welt auch deshalb eher durch unsere „Naiven“ und weniger durch die begabten Studenten der französischen Malerschulen des 19. Jahrhunderts.

Es herrscht stets eine monumentale Schwere vor, die unsere Ausblicke verfinstert. Ein ähnliches Problem finden wir auch bei den Slowenen, den Serben, den Mazedoniern; aber nicht immer bei den anderen slawischen Malern. Die Russen zum Beispiel malen das Licht auf ausgesprochen luminöse, tief erlebte russische Weise. Es gibt Slawen und Slawen.

Ähnlich den Gemälden so fehlt auch unseren Filmen oft die Lyrik des Lichts, die Heiterkeit der leichten Gefühle und die Milde des Humors. Wir sagen nicht, dass wir langweilig sein müssen wie die Tschechen, wenngleich in den tschechischen Filmen ebenfalls eine tückische Gefahr lauert. Die Rohheit hat in jedem Fall romantische Präjudizien auf der großen Leinwand, aber in der Regel sind jene Filme die besten, die vom Gewöhnlichen und Alltäglichen erzählen und wenig Worte machen. Filme der Stille. In einem guten Film ist oft gerade die Stille, das Unausgesprochene, der wichtigere Teil der Geschichte. Das heißt, die filmische Sprache richtig verwenden. Das Singen der Vögel im Wald, das Rauschen und Plätschern, das Spiel der Sonne auf den Blättern, die im Frühlingshauch erzittern – das sind die Quellen des Ästhetischen, die wir in einigen der besten Filme finden. Aber Vorsicht, der Film ist nur eine Form der Flucht, eine Form des betäubenden Haschischs, an dem wir uns von Kindesbeinen an berauschen.


Im Ballon über die Stadt

Ende des Sommers, und der Himmel verfinstert sich zusehends. Auf den Häusern lasten die Schatten schwerer Gewitterwolken. Die Frauen klauben die Wäsche zusammen vor dem Regen, während in der Ferne dumpfes Donnergrollen zu hören ist. Im Telefonhörer sirrt eine Mädchenstimme. „Komm“, sagt sie, „komm zum Essen.“ Er hört elektronische Musik – John Carpenters Assault on precinct 13. Ihm gefällt die Musik des Filmemachers.

Ich arbeite, ich weiß nicht.“

Ich mach’ dir einen Kirschstrudel“, sagt sie. Sie weiß, dass er Kirschstrudel mag.

Ich schreibe, ich arbeite“, sagt er.

Die Regenwolken, jetzt schon völlig schwarz, lassen ihre durchsichtigen Tränen fließen. Sie wird böse, und das Gespräch ist schnell zu Ende. Überall, außer in seinem Zimmer, sirren die Fernseher. Über dem Haus gegenüber ragen vier riesige Baukräne empor wie vier Zyklopen. An jedem Ende hängt eine rote Fahne. „Gefahr!“ In der Nachbarwohnung reden sie von dem Jungen, der sich vom Dach des Nachbarhochhauses geworfen hat.

Aufgeplatscht wie ein Pfannkuchen“, hört er eine Männerstimme ohne jede Spur von Emotion. „Ein paar Sekunden und Schluss“, hört er eine andere Stimme, weicher, eine Frau. „Was für eine Tragödie“, sagt dieselbe Stimme, aber ohne Aufrichtigkeit. „Wir sind Menschen, und keine Ameisen“, fährt jemandes Stimme hinter der Wand fort, jetzt etwas weniger grob. Der Regenschwall zieht über das Viertel weg und weiter nach Osten. Er wählt ihre Nummer. „Gut, ich komme“, sagt er. „Gleich mit dem ersten Bus.“

Fenster werden geöffnet, die Sonne wird neu geboren und – Vögel kreisen über dem Haus. Türenschlagen im Treppenhaus, in den Zimmern, an den Kühlschränken, Automobilen. Scheppern von Töpfen und Essbesteck. Eine Klingel schrillt, verdirbt die Sonntagsruhe.

Er tritt auf den Balkon hinaus, wo angebunden mit einem Tau sein rot-weißer Ballon wartet, mit dem er sich rasch erheben wird, hoch über diese Bienenkörbe aus Beton, hoch über seine Knabenträume, über die Stadt, die er einmal lieb gewinnen wird, dermaleinst, vor langem, in einer Zeit, die irgendwo bereits gewesen ist.

Bald wird er dort oben schweben, hoch über der Stadt in dem Ballon, der immer höher und höher steigt, in eine neue, andere, geräumigere Zeit. Ein Tag wird dann sechsunddreißig Stunden haben, und das Jahr fünfhundertachtundvierzig Tage!

Wir werden viel mehr Zeit haben“, denkt er glücklich und steigt behände in den Ballon, bindet das Tau los und steigt rasch auf aus dem Cañon der Häuser, hoch hinauf über seine neuerlich sonnengebadete Stadt.

Aus dem Kroatischen von Klaus Detlef Olof

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chuck Miller: How In The Morning

Hey, is this heaven?
No, it's Iowa.
W.P. Kinsella



Audio recording of Kerouac reading his famous  October in the Railroad Earth:

“Boris, i listened to it, funny i felt like i was god, listening to his tootle, thinking this boy doesn’t know where he is going to end up not even twenty years later dead of alcoholism, yet of course amazingly descriptive and expressive, poor old Jack football player, and roustabout, and proletarian and scholar of heavenly manuscripts, didn’t take up with the gal who invited him" you want to play with my patootie mon?", but dead already and dead again thrown out and trying to get back in they locked him out, so he looked at them thru weird undersea window of distorting features. love chuck”

American Poet Chuck Miller, photo credits: John Deason

 Chuck Miller (1939): Founder of the Actualist poetry movement and author of over a dozen collections is one of the last living American writers strongly influenced by the tradition of American socialist writers from the 1930s, most notably his friend and champion, the late Meridel Le Seueur and Jack Conroy; another influence is the Beats from the 50s, most notably Kerouac. He has studied at the UI Writers' Workshop and has traveled and thought English language and American literature through-out the globe, from Slovakia to Kyrgizstan, and from China to Argentina. He's an author of a dozen collections of what he (deliberately) calls "proletarian" poetry, dealing with barren, desolate places, the strangeness of human interaction and the small tragic destines of down-and-out America, whose plight remains largely invisible and out of sight to the powers that be.
 His books include Crossing the Kattegat (2001), How in the Morning  (Spirit That Moves Us Press, 1989),  From Oslo  (Friends Press, 1988), and Harvesters  (Coffee House Press, 1984). His last collection Poems of Protest, Parsecs To Go (2013) includes a lengthy interview with his friend, the Croatian-American fiction writer and translator, Boris Gregoric.

Poem: "In Celebration of Surviving," by Chuck Miller, from Northern Fields: New & Selected Poems (Coffee House Press).
in celebration of surviving when senselessness has pounded you around on the ropes
and you're getting too old to hold out for the future
no work and running out of money,
and then you make a try after something that you know you
    won't get
and this long shot comes through on the stretch
in a photo finish of your heart's trepidation
then for a while
even when the chill factor of these prairie winters puts it at
    fifty below
you're warm and have that old feeling
of being a comer, though belated
in the crazy game of life
standing in the winter night
emptying the garbage and looking at the stars
you realize that although the odds are fantastically against you
when that single January shooting star
flung its wad in the maw of night
it was yours
and though the years are edged with crime and squalor
that second wind, or twenty-third
is coming strong
and for a time
perhaps a very short time
one lives as though in a golden envelope of light

Chuck Reading...

 Amazon.Com Review of 'Northern Fields' by John Birkbeck (Iowa City, IA):

This review is from: Northern Fields (Paperback)
Plato once said that "Poets utter wise and great things, not understanding what they themselves say." In the case of Chuck Miller, Plato's utterance is proved askew. I have heard countless readings given by this author, and his wise and great utterances are more than apparent. In his recent book, "Northern Fields", appear myriad examples of the worldly wisdom of this poet. His writing, just as does his melodic voice, reaches across time and cultures. As champion of the downtrodden, the down-and out, and those among us who have somehow fallen through the cracks of the modern world, Miller's insights are profound. His book is a great comfort to the spirit, like sitting before the fire on a cold night; a must.


Chuck spent many years teaching English in China and China and his good Chinese friends hold a very special place in his generous heart —one of his former students and friends is also Rose who visited Iowa City several years ago: 

Chuck and Rose, photo: bg


Two poems of Miller translated into Croatian language —one is the old anarchist creed of sorts, another —what happens when you have to weather it out in your own car (not a small feat in the bitterly cold Northern Hemisphere...)

hasta la victoria siempre1

hoće li nas se dići iz mrtvih
kao na Sudnji dan
hoće li nas se uvesti u neku veliku odaju punu ljudi
hoćemo li tamo sresti Che Guevaru, Malatestu,
Bakunjina i Rosu Luxemburg
koji će do tada postati sveci i mučenici
pružajući svoj blagoslov…
hoćemo li ondje zagrliti stare prijatelje s kojima smo raskinuli sve veze
ljubavnice koje su nas odavno napustile
a naši neprijatelji, što sa njima?
hoćemo li se konačno izmiriti,
ili će oni biti izgnani u nekakav pakao —
i hoće li oni koji su bili ubijeni u borbi
ili mučeni na smrt,
na neki način postati obnovljeni, cjeloviti
postajući dio neke velike duše pravde i jednakosti?

hasta la victoria siempre —
rečeno kao svojevrstan zbogom
a do tada…
vjera, mora se očuvati
kroz različite živote
inkarnacije, razočaranja
otuđenja, gubitke, smrti, staljinizacije, zamrzavanja i otopljavanja
snove, rođenja, prosvjetljenja
hoće li Buda biti ondje
kako bi nas dočekao, ili Krist?
hoće li naše pogreške, zločini i posrtanja biti oprošteni i iskupljeni?
hoćemo li zaplesati s Višnuom, s boginjom Kali, s dervišima
u posljednjoj ekstazi duševnih maštarija ?

hoće li tamo postojati svojevrsni Očenaš za anarhiste
kojeg ćemo izgovoriti svake noći u glas prije no što razlomimo hljeb
hoćemo li prestati jesti meso naših bližnjih stvorenja,
nebeskih i zemaljskih,
u nekoj vrsti konačnog vegetarijanstva?

rečeno kao svojevrstan zbogom
a do tada…

kada živiš u svojem automobilu/when you live in your car

kad živiš u svojem automobilu
umjesto u sobi
izjutra se budiš sporo
čekaš, gledaš dok toplo sunce ne probije tamu.
iskobeljaš se iz skvrčene poze,
i jutro odjednom kao da procvate
širokim poljem punim maslačaka;
žbunje kraj maloga potoka tada nadomješta drveće
svojim granjem i lišćem –
čak i prazan zid jedne zatvorene tvornice
(iza koje smo kradomice parkirani)
ima svojih Zen asocijacija –
poplava uspomena
nečeg što sam onda bio
a čemu se sada samo smiješim…

nemajući krova nad glavom ( toga stropa za misli)
počinješ stvari dok ona još spava
sjedaš na haubu automobila
duh se polagano otvara spram širine neba,
nebeskim prugama, masama niskih oblaka…
zvuci i oblici čine se određeniji
u daljini pjesma autoceste
negdje je pala alatka, zazvečavši od betona
odnekud dolazi delikatno udaranje čekićem, njegov zveket
vrana prelijeće preko tvorničkoga krova —
sa beznadno prodornim krikom punim kletve
uplašili ste jedno drugo —vrana te prva bila spazila
potom je odletjela s nekoliko probranih psovki

sjećam se jedne večeri u sjevernom Ontariju,
nakon niza dugih, praznih pustopoljina
prizor guste tajge posvuda,
jedan sjeverni jelen zaustavio se na rubu šume
potom nestade ga…
počinjalo je arktično razvođe, bili smo već nadomak,
preko još nekoliko polja, pored farmi,
gradići francuskoga govornog područja
gdje žive potomci Francuza, Indijanci,
obje grupe izgledaju toliko turobno i izbezumljeno —
dalje na putu, naišli smo na čudan spomenik:
kip čovjeka, žene i djeteta
držeći se za ruke navrh kamenog pedestala:

U rano jutro Aug. 4, 1963
nedaleko od ovog mjesta tri člana strugarskog i pilarskog sindikata
ubijeni su, dok je sedmoro bilo ranjeno u borbi za prava organiziranog radništva.”

zastali smo —
prerijski vjetar mrsio nam je kosu,
tišina je dihala polagano,
a potom je i ona stala.

U spomen na Josepha Fortiera
rođenog 1928 — Irene Fortier rođena 1938”
pa još jedno ime
brat i sestra? muž i žena?
svo troje iz istoga klana

uglavnom Francuzi uhićeni u bijedi emigrantskog života,
prešavši preko klasnih i etničkih linija, udruženi u bijedi s drugim
imigrantima u zajedničkoj borbi —
ali natpis na engleskom?
zamislite puške kanadske konjičke policije
ili neke druge naoružane udruge —u trenutku dok pucaju
u gomilu nenaoružanih štrajkača —

uvidjajući okrutnost svoga čina —grimizne mrlje,
krvavo prikazanje zamrznuto u vremenu,
poput filma koji nanove kreće, jauci,
žalobna zapomaganja, agonija razbacanih tijela…

noćno sunce sipa svoj blistavi, luminozni sjaj
crne muhe grizu po vratu i glavi
rojeći se nad našim psima
dok se krećemo natrag kroz šumarak
gledajući u napuštene daščare
jedva se nekako drže na okupu —
nasuli smo si litru ulja, nastavili putovanje

jutra dolaze sporije
i jednostavnije kad je čovjek malo sretniji
stvari nisu toliko otuđene, klaustrofobične, izgubljene
tvoja prijateljica još spava
gledaš, preko polja, prema jezeru
magla se lagano diže
prsa se takodjer dižu—
da li pravičnost počinje s ovakvim tračcima
nekih jedva zamišljenih stvari?
ili je to samo zalutao plamičak —koji zatim ponovo
1 “Do konačne pobjede” (Špan.)

Translated from English into Croatian
by Boris Gregoric

All Rights Reserved, please contact for permission to reprint or use in any other manner. Thank You.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Writer and The Landscape


Borisse: TREE (black ink, paper), A-4 size x 4

8/2014:  Creed

No sullen, sunless country can ever be my true country of origin. I refuse to accept any sullen, sunless country. 

 Unrelated ...

Aww, here we go again, el futból!  Another Barca season with the humorless midget and the dreaded boredom of tica-taca.  It's like 'global warming' —no end in sight to a stale fable—and milking the dead cow until no cow is left.

Handke is on the right track.  The writer, if he's half intelligent, can only be interested in landscape, in that other, invisible, unheard of realm of 'people' (as Muir loved to call them) —the confessions of birds, trees, rivers and lakes.  All the 'humanist' novel writing has been like flogging of a dead horse ever since Beckett — perhaps the French roman nouveau also —dead ended and terminated the charade.  Handke is aware of this and that's why he pushes far from the anthropocentric. Ne importe ou, hors du monde —cried monsieur Baudelaire! And we add anywhere from the contamination of modern cities!

The grandfather of us tree-loving scriveners —John Muir. 

Credit to the author of this photo (unknown)

Rare are writers who also seem to be beautiful human beings. Peter Handke might be one such beautiful writer.  Kind and handsome and also a brilliant writer is not something you'll find every day in your run-of-the-mill writing legion.  To the contrary.   

Peter Handke (credit to the photographer whoever he or she might be)

Invisible labors...2 maybe 2 1/2 years of sketchbooks...

Let Your Best Work Remain..., B. G.

Banyan Tree (I'd Love To Dwell least for a while)

All Rights Reserved,

Monday, September 15, 2014

John Updike: Problems and Other Stories (1972)

John Updike: Problems and Other Stories (1972)

Franz Kline


Or: Updike Vs. Miller And The Difference On the Dick-to-Dick Basis

A wicked, depraved mind and a brilliant style (Updike)?  A gentile, generous mind with a pedestrian style (Chekhov)? In a sense, Updike could be modern Chekhov in the negative.  No other chronicler of the 50’s 60’s and 70’s upper middle class America, has been as perhaps as good of a writer... 

When the tone of Updike menace becomes almost intolerable, there is usually some darkly humorous relief for the reader before he slips back into depravity and degradation. That happens, quite infamously, in this collection, with regularity, but perhaps the best example is Transaction, a story as close to pornographic as the mainstream 'respectable' bourgeois writer can get.  In comparison, the raunchiest pages of Henry Miller sound like a bucolic play.  The reason is that Miller, despite all of his seeming obscenity, is a Howl against the deadliness of the American philistinism, and the cry is almost infantile in its wild, but always life-affirming innocuousness, where Updike, in essence a hardened philistine, cannot stand further away from either the life-affirming or the harmless.  

There is a big gap between the obscene and the pornographic.  In fact they are usually mutually exclusive. One can be, like Henry Miller, a chronicler of human obscenity on many levels, which Miller does, or one can want to pull you down in the muck, to root like a hog, like one of Updike's misogyne protagonists, anyone in his business of Freudian nastiness. 

Once, in a notable conversation with his champion and friend Anais Nin, Miller brought up the distinction between the quick and the dead.  This distinction relates to the difference between obscenity and pornography.  Even though he talked from the mystical point of view, you know what he is talking about at once — and understand this is exactly why his best writing still rings and sparkles with life and magic of life, with the sense of an almost phosphorescent cosmic HOPE, while Updike by instinct is always quelling every positive, every kindly, let decent human impulse. Everything healthily obscene.  That's why we can judge Updike as an often brilliant literary pornographer, but never a great writer.

Furthermore, despite his consummate literary fireworks, on the sentence-per-sentence basis often brilliant, Updike leaves a bitter, slug-like aftertaste on one's mind. A masterpiece of this self-hating, life-impulse defeating, mindset of course is the iconic Rabbit —in this collection of stories, Rabbit is present, and ‘reconstructed’ through the Updike's perennial themes of adultery, infidelity, perversity, disgust and distrust, games of humiliation and domination.

Never to be one to gild the lily, Mr. Updike's profound, old Testament style like misogyny, is cleverly disguised in brilliant sentence structure, for Updike is synonymous with the polished, nearly self-parodied, *New Yorker* style of ‘perfect’ writing  —and yet the hatred that he feels for women seems so profound, even frightening, that despite the brilliant flourish makes one shudder with disgust.

Thus the vicious pornographic Transaction has badly damaged this collection for me.  Bad news for Updike …because, there are some true gems in the book too: The Gun Shop, Nevada, Atlantises. And there's the hauntingly beautiful Domestic Life in America*.

In any story collection though, some stories succeed better than others. Updike, to repeat, fails when he tries to graft the adulterous costume onto his central cartoon-like 'protestant' characters. On the other hand he succeeds when he tries to show some empathy for the America he hates so much. Contradictory? Yes.
But as a writer Updike is at his best when he forgets his mean inner philistine, and forgets to shock the reader. For there is no redeeming quality in shock value, if it were so, than an obnoxious, mean-spirited jerk like Howard Stern would be considered funny —and not simply a nasty verbal bully. 

So where is the Catch 22? 

Perhaps it lies in the fact that the fabled style of Updike often strikes one as a futile exercise in virtuosity, without the depth of Miller's wisdom or, ultimately, lacking those redemptive qualities that one would expect to find in a truly great writer. Updike’s role is rather of a cynical chronicler  of the dissolving social fabric of the WASP America of the past fifty years, from the bucolic golden age of the 1950’s, through the troubled 1960’s and into the violent America of the 1970’s.  Unwittingly, or not, he celebrates this dissolution with a triumphant éclat of a literary idiot savant, always failing to recognize or to seize upon the truer underpinnings of the long process of dissolution.  Perhaps knowingly, since he obviously is very intelligent, perhaps being fully compliant with the process of social disintegration of America. 

Perhaps, if he had elected upon airing any, even very mildly dissenting view publicly could have pushed him in the direction of even greater mastering of the minutiae of the upper middle class Americana. 

Technically, however, Updike probably wrote better than most American 20th century contemporaries. When he wrote of what he knew, and suppressed his next lecherous or adulterous inner swine , he's memorable like few others. Some gems of this book beckon again: The Gun Shop, Nevada: the beautiful *Domestic Life in America, the heart-breaking Here Come the Maples — are all, in my humble opinion,  outstanding pieces of modern short fiction. Some others, better ones, reminded me of the old 1960's master, Don Barthelme (Love Song For a Moog Synthesizer, the eponymous Problems— one of the best in the collection— and the hilarious Minutes of the Last Meeting).

In Updike, let it be summed, always lurks a glint of an almost spiteful glee over the slow, prolonged cultural death of the Anglo-Saxon America so strikingly apparent in the past two or three decades. A bad joke.

Death wish of the WASP America? Or a deeper psychological dysfunction? And what powerful enemy than the insider in the guise of a famous author? A bad joke, at times apparent to a finely attuned  sensibility. His vaunted Protestant decadence is noticeably of a rather suspect variety.

But, how to get upset for Updike is a master stylist despite the insidious message.  Everybody knows he has come to epitomize the New Yorker ‘school’ of writing, and has been its iconic figurehead for decades.  Best of all, the  consistently dysfunctional outlook is often veiled in the blisteringly witty humor. What style indeed.  Flawless. Not for nothing Updike was an avatar of the pure writeism. In the end, despite being  difficult to digest with the chunks of his disturbing weltanschauung, his wit and sardonic humor can really almost tip the reader back in his favor. 

If it only were not for that darned, deeply rooted, Freudian almost misogyny. ‘Transaction’: revolting. Nothing nice about sexual degradation. And, once more, beneath the gilded surface,  beneath the impeccable craft —for Updike was also a workhorse, a wordsmith since he was 15 — there lurks a disturbing little dickhead. But, unlike Henry Miller whom many would mistake for a dick,  but was in essence anti-pornographic, Updike is a slut. In the words of the daughter in Nevada story who says that all women are sluts.  Which makes all men dicks.   Not.

Updike II…

Stories polished to near perfection. But always with dark, creepy, almost menacing undertone, that makes you thread along cautiously, as if tiptoeing on egg shells.  Nearly all obsessively deal with separation, divorce, adultery, a family breakdown. How does one reconcile depravity with great writing skill?  Maybe one chips off for  the brilliant side of things somehow, keeping in mind that Updike, since he was 23, had no other business in life but to type his stories and novels for the next six decades or so. A single minded determination on that scale, will make just about anyone excel at whatever they do.  Most, of course, will give up, or life will take them off in some other direction.  Most people, of course, have to work in order to live and don’t have the upper middle class cushion to fall back upon.

I always disliked his famous Rabbit novels, for his deeply rooted hatred for the ways  of his eponymous character: it felt wrong to be so unsympathetic to one's main protagonist; and after various attempts to get into his novels, this has always turned me off.  I could not see how one can write so much, bashing the way of life of a supposedly All-American character, how can an author eviscerate with such frightful mockery and ruthlessness?

In the end, with his writing skill, Updike is a five-star Hilton hotel.   Just look at the amazing, gut-wrenching, beautiful ‘Domestic Life in America’. But he's also a one-star highway motel for his profound social and moral dysfunction. As if his dysfunction were consistently driven by a secret, monstrous, self-righteous tyrannical bent (liberalism) inherent to the ‘New Yorker’ school of thinking and, by extension, the way their writers all more or less share the same uniformly pro-dysfunctional outlook.  

 The sneakily intrusive tone (this could probably describe most writers in the New Yorker vein), however can swiftly deteriorate into crudely offensive (v. ‘Transaction’, a story that leaves an ugly aftertaste in one’s mouth for quite some time… 

Why? Because it has a disturbing, one would say typical Updike ‘ingredient’ of a profound misogyny.  Which actually jives with (overall) the Old Testament-y pompous tone, which does take away from his enormous skill as a writer.  After all, Updike is a brilliantly camouflaged member of the rich and decadent one percent.

Somebody once aptly observed that Updike is like a poison snake one doesn’t quite expect to find slithering in one's neatly mowed lawn.  Often sugar coating, almost always sentimental to the point of parody, and then suddenly he strikes with his deeply concealed venom.  What a master of vituperation, we must admit.  One of the best among the American writers who as a workshop rule are rather one-sided, with little depth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of pen-wielders (think of the late Raymond Carver as their great avatar) —nearly everyone reared on the tired one-trick pony show of the god damn show- don’t-tell BS treadmill.

 Winter 2014

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