Revolutionary hilarity

Lots of people coming over lately, which makes me happy! Tea and pastries on the back patio!

I went to an intense and strange poetry reading, or performance thing, at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. It was weird enough to have its own name: Iapetus. My friend Steve Arntson organized it, and true to his long-form genius it was set up to give us all a lot of time to explore words and sound. I had the feeling that everyone who came to it was ready for that and willing to hear anyone with the mic do something unusual, take us all on a trip.

Iapetus Berkeley flyer

Steve opened by reciting a 15 or 20 minute holographic poem on the theme of bones, full of natural history like no other poem about bones you’ve ever heard. He was fantastic. I had to just laugh with pleasure many times throughout. I got up next reading a couple of short things, my translation of Mariblanca Sabás Alomá’s Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico, explaining first that I would shout whenever the poet busted into capital letters. It was well received. You can’t read out this poem without giggling and shaking your fist at the sky (if you are me). Then I read a couple of other short-ish things including my poem about Pat Nixon in China, a thing about time and memory and children, and a segment of my poem about Henry Ford (which I can’t seem to finish).

Liz iapetus

Highlights of the strange hours to follow: the guy on guitar doing quiet tone poems behind us, Dr. Hal in an australian bush hat endlessly reciting Dylan Thomas W.S. Merwin, and one I liked very much called Under the Vulture Tree by David Bottoms. (Even if it does suffer from the “hummmmm” problem at the end.) And a crapload of William Blake. Managing to infuse it with a hint of creepyness. Then Clara Hsu creating a meditative atmosphere with one of those tibetan bronze bowl thingies, singing the Langston Hughes poem about rain, more things about rain, a poem about Cuba, and a Bach prelude of words about being in a city which I wasn’t sure if I would like but in the end, felt like cheering at how she carried it off. A guy named Tom Stolmar rapid fire ranting with a lot of pop culture and a bitter aftertaste. Fragments of my notes: “Welcome to the endless high school reunion” Something something Morocco, almost went to Paul Bowles’ house, nose surgery, imploding tootsie roll Marky Mark toastmaster creamsicle”. I’m sure that was not all in the same poem. It’s a good sign when I laugh during your poem since if I were laughing in the way of hating it I would be more polite. I also now describe this guy as “the guy who says ‘horripilating'”. Mary Marcia who I remember from Waverly Writers at the Quaker Meeting house in Palo Alto got up and read a slow poem about a million kinds of birds then played on a thumb piano and a Harpo Mark horn. There was another point where someone got up and kind of beatboxed their way through Jimi Hendrix’s entire performance of the Star Spangled Banner complete with explosion sound effects which was slightly hard to tolerate but also amazing. Deborah Fruchey read some poems but my note-taking hand fell off by that point. Someone whose name I didn’t catch performed a long and very disturbing piece that was like a conversational fugue about dating and sex and abuse and rape and relationships. I liked it. And finally ToReadah performed a long piece angrily demanding answers from a “churchman” which she said she normally would not feel comfortable reading. I did not know most people at this reading, as I have not been going out in the past few years to any sort of literary events, just not enough time or energy. Maybe it’s time to put my toe back in the water.

It was not your average poetry reading! There will be a video of this event (I heard that when Steve gets back from Burning Man in October we will get a DVD). Why in October? Is he walking back from Nevada? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Meanwhile, in books, I read a great book by Danez Smith, Black Movie.

. . . . . This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —

children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors

with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. . . .

Good stuff!!! And an excellent book!

I also read Ho Chi Minh’s Prison Diary translated by Dang The Binh and with a forward by Phan Nhuan. Came across this because it was quoted in Huey P. Newton’s book Revolutionary Suicide. I was most struck by “Reading the ‘Anthology of a Thousand Poets'”, the one Newton quoted, and the poem about a milestone (which made me cry a little). While this is not my favorite translation style (rhyming, formalist), I read a few other translations online and got the flavor of what’s happening enough to enjoy the book very much. But possibly the best thing is that my cheap used copy ordered off Amazon was printed in Hanoi in 1972, with truly beautiful layout and typography and everything about the book design, including the art. (Drawings by Tran Van Can and Nguyen Do Cung. Jacket Design by Nguyen Tho. Printed at Tien Bo Press, Democratic Republic of Vietnam.) It is also inscribed in the front in Vietnamese to Robert Miller, dated 1975, and I can’t read the signature but would guess it may be signed by the translator. Now while Bob Miller is a common name I can’t think who would be in Hanoi in 1975 other than Robert L. Miller, illustrious author of “Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage” and “Indochina and Vietnam: The Thirty-Five Year War”. Bob, I have your Ho Chi Minh book! Why’d you let it go?! And can you tell us the story of how you got it?

Related posts:

Unruly Islands will blow your mind, so buy it

If you don’t really like poetry because it usually sucks and is embarrassing, buy my latest book of poems, Unruly Islands. Buy some extra copies for your friends and one for your giant robot. It goes well in hackerspaces! Poems about the moon landing, modem noises, the dotcom crash, seasteading, surly teenage embezzlers, San Francisco alternate future geographies, and the history of utopianism from the Whole Earth Catalog through Riot Grrrl to Burning Man.

Also fits perfectly into your #Occupy library tent! Or — donate one to your local library for mega subversive pleasure!

Buy Unruly Islands from Aqueduct Press directly if you like supporting small, incredibly intellectual feminist science fiction publishers. Or buy Unruly Islands Amazon.com. it’s $12.00 and 96 pages of a weird trip through my brain.

The book has a gorgeous cover by an artist and hacker I met at Noisebridge, Meredith Scheff aka ladycartoonist.

Book cover for Unruly Islands

Here’s the book description and fabulous blurbs.

Unruly Islands collects 36 poems suffused with science fiction, revolution, and digital life on the edge.

Annalee Newitz, editor of i09, says of the collection: ”Liz Henry’s poetry is always moving, funny, and weird, regardless of whether she’s flying us on a rocketship through a science-fictional social revolution or telling us a wry story about being an adolescent embezzler. This collection is like a monster cyborg mashup of Walt Whitman, Joanna Russ, and the internet. Which is to say: Fuck yeah!”

Daphne Gottlieb, author of 15 Ways to Stay Alive, Why Things Burn, and Final Girl, writes: ”With all the awe and shiny of Barbarella, the breathless curiosity of Robert Hayden’s American Journal, and the dismal, too-real fluorescent sheen of the corner store, Liz Henry takes the world (and the otherword) and makes it ours in all of its signal and noise, its glorious classwar and cussmouth. She takes the unknowable along with the familiar and shows us how, incontrovertibly, the future is here, and the future is us.”

And Maureen Owen, author of Imaginary Income and Zombie Notes, observes, ”Liz Henry’s protean, phantasmagorical images slingshot us out and boomerang us back simultaneously over multiple plains in all directions. Immediate, futuristic, subliminal. An intimate, wild ride through a surrealistic mind field.”

Photo of Liz Henry

I’ll be reading this month in San Francisco at Writers With Drinks on May 12, Red Hill Books in Bernal Heights May 18, and at the feminist science fiction convention in Madiscon, Wisconsin, WisCon later in May.

Related posts:

Cranky Lightning

I’m at the Quiet Lightning reading in a VERY CRANKY mood ready to liveblog. It smells like pot in here and I’ve had a gin and tonic and about 100 hipsters with scarves on are blocking my way to the bathroom so get ready for me to bitch like hell and become even more unpopular. So far halfway in I’ve wanted to slap everyone except Bucky Sinister. The format is a nice idea, rapid fire switching readers with no introductions and MC-ing or writerly apologias for work to come. The writers hop up on stage and read in order as declared on the event’s handy postcard flyer. At least in theory. The organizers make a tiny perfect-bound anthology every month and as we all know, the perfect-bound book published by someone who isn’t actually yourself is the Holy Grail, and regular readings are good, so I guess this is a literary scene now.

two handfuls of baby owls

Alia V. read a very annoying memoirish “fiction” about being the Spanish-English interpreter in a doctor’s office while a mom explained that her physically and developmentally disabled 9 year old son has a huge penis and is hitting puberty early. Alia intermittently rambles about her own teenage son and how they don’t talk about anything, then goes back to obsessing on and sniggering about the 9 year old’s huge penis and laments with “irony” that Pablo will never have a lover so his gift is wasted. The audience actually “hmmmmed” as if she had said something profound instead of bigoted and ignorant. Whatever, heinous ableist HIPAA-violating wench, even if it’s “fiction” you can blow me and I see why your teenager doesn’t talk to you. What a waste of ink.

Bucky Sinister read a sweet amusing well structured piece of prose, Grey Side of the Moon, about leaving arkansas on the tornado and saying Fuck You Dorothy for going back to your grey land while meth girls with homemade tattoos and dudes with cat whiskers die for technicolor. He did not quite say that but close to it. “Dorothy walks into Rainbow Grocery wearing ruby red Doc Martens. I’m looking for the good witch. Everyone raises their hand.” Oh Bucky you are so punk rock and I’m sorry your friends fucking died from ODing and AIDS. The audience laughed in all the wrong places. I even liked the Fake Tits Haikus in the middle. You know how some people can write about their lives like “Oh, I did so many drugs. Body fluids. The end.” and it’s so pretentious because the bit past “the end” is probably “and now I am a Ruby developer and complain loudly if my pumpkin latte is not quite right”? Bucky’s stories don’t do that. Instead they make me feel the world right here is simultaneous with the rest of the world. Bucky is good. You should go to his Wednesday night comedy show at 8pm at the Darkroom.

Jonathan S. earned my instant tired loathing for some kind of fake-ass audrey hepburn Bostonian theatre class accent mixed with other accents all horribly dominated by jim morrison-like doggerel recited in the portentious tones of the Slam Poet as the audience Hmmmmmmmed. Humdrum poets! Quit that! go start a band or something! Fuck! People Hmmming all over like something deep was expressed. OMG someone just shit out a little rabbit pellet of emoto-philosophy in rhyme! Quick! Everyone hmmmm!

Ian Tuttle. A sweet poem to the road, like a route 66 paean, too young and earnest to be annoying. I liked his Death Valley poem and think he has a nice line break once in a while. Suddenly I worry that some MFA program will ruin his soul. He could stand to go listen to my friend Arntsen’s bursts of geographical brilliance. And either pack more density of ideas into a long poem or take it somewhere; ie think of it as a narrative.

Ali Liebegott did the forbidden intro about being a paleontologist or something. The sweetest dinosaur that ever lived. I pretend he was a cardigan wearing painter, an effeminate dinosaur, a friend. When people weren’t assholes, because there weren’t any people. Okay this is fucking great. Hahahhahahah. Got me. Then an excerpt from a novel called “Cha-ching”. About her boss that called everything “you fucking faggot”. The faxed prices of semiconductors entered on a prehistoric computer. Reminds me of zines about “unworking” from 1992. “I pretended to be Nawal El-Saadawi….” Ahahaha . I just snorted out loud. That was pleasing. Insane bookkeepers and swishy nylon sweatsuits with a booger-eyed white terrier and the desperation of scarfing breakroom donuts. Dude I’m flashing back to my 80s and 90s temping days. “My life was sad in Yonkers.” Not like fake-edgy, but actually reality-bending! Someone remarks that Leibegott is the poor man’s Michelle Tea, which seems a bit unfair. Anyone who pretends to be Nawal El-Saadawi while being oppressed by data entry is good enough not to be compared all the time to Michelle Tea.

Kim A. gets a lot of frat boy cheers from the crowd. Her poem is called Blues for Robert Johnson. That inspired dreamy voice. I swear i will never fucking do that… shoot me if so. It’s an okay poem. With harmonica. Why does everyone read in that VOICE? Shooooot me. What if people just went around always talking like that? It’s like I imagine the elocutionist sounded from Anne of Green Gables. I could read this paragraph like a slam poet elocutionist and people would applaud it. She plays the harmonica charmingly! I applaud the harmonica part. Then a poem about the great penis famine of 2008 and a dick-tater joke. Penis blues. I feel impatient for this audience. This poem would get an A in a creative writing class. I feel fairly certain she’s grownup enough to have written something much better than crowd pleasing BS. Now a train song on the harmonica, very good! Awesome! Robert Johnson would approve.

Intermission. Starved-for-pussy 60 year old silver foxes in black turtlenecks with 20 years out of date pickup artist techniques consider me and back slowly away. Correctly spotted, old dudes! I do not get invited to any tantric zen sex poetry workshops by any of the facelift set. They found other prey. Instead I talked with Monica Storss my new neighbor & a poet who just moved into a boat called Bohemia and who was sporting an epic tiny velvet hat with peacock feathers and jewels on it, and her awesome cleavage; talked with Sara Moore who is also a literary translator, and Charlie Jane. I gave them all inside-out books. Saw Stephen Elliot but did not manage to get across the room to say hi. People were talking vigorously and having a nice time! Books were for sale at a table near the bar.

Baby owls in a little hutch animated gif

2nd half

Andrew D. A chapter from his novel about a homeless man on ecstasy. Written in 2nd person. “You can feel the ocean. This is the moment. This is home. Not where you grew up in Montana.” If you go back to Montana, turn to page 37. If you stay here by the ocean, turn to page 129. The elocutionists’ intonation. I wonder what this would sound like if I just read it out loud as I do books at bedtime to my son. That might improve it. The intonation stretches out vowels and weirdly de-emphasizes the ends of sentences. It’s half an octave higher than people’s normal voices. It has a little sing-song to it as if an echo effect is about to repeat each line for a disco chorus. Anyone who writes about “The Homeless Man” as a sort of metaphor character should be fucking slapped. It’s like the magical negro. But metaphorical homeless guy. When did “homeless man” become this particular placeholder rather than “hobo” which had something a lot different to it while perhaps over-romanticizing the jumping on boxcars aspect of poverty at least you could make a good blues song out of it yourself, rather than hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for some haight street aspiring novelist to dehumanize you in immortal, boring prose.

Lauren B. “First, do not be beautiful.” Trauma! Drama! Dating! Do not be a nice young writer lady who dates married guys while you both pretend not to be damaged and maybe sort of don’t have an Affair. We are not all Anais Nin. We mostly regret this. It’s fine to try. I will never understand heterosexual women.

Peg P. Nice boots. Yes… yes the protocol IS that you are supposed to launch into your reading. OMG, not kiss ass on the organizers. We already applauded them. Okay read something. We applaud the organizers for her again. Whatever. Shut uuuuuuup. Read it! Story about some young heterosexual college people in some town somewhere smoking weed. I think they are about to go bowling and have some trauma on a lacy bedspread or a backseat. The mic has screwed up and half the audience is rowdily unconcerned while the other half, who have produced their own readings and shows and music for untold ages, itch and sigh that it is not rocket science to run a mic. Uh oh! What will happen at the bowling alley! Check, check, one two. Check. Start over! Tony and Joey down by the schoolyard, redux. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Exposition. Exposition. I expect someone will be named Vinnie next. Scenery description. Glass ashtrays. We are in a pizzeria’s back room smoking some weed. Rather than some kind of saturday night live gang rape scene in the back seat of a car we are suddenly in a conversation about Jane’s poetry. Existential moment. Sex is mentioned only obliquely. The mary sue insertion college student is still talking about her poems. Mary Sue Waspy Snotbag is now gawking at some working class italian lady’s house decor like she’s never seen a cut glass candy dish in all her born days. Maybe you had to be there. I’m glad I’m not a writing teacher. I have lost track of who Courtney and Zach are but I so don’t care. OMG Tony will not have sex with her right in the bedroom while his mom is calling from downstairs. I was right about the lacy bedspread. Write what you know I guess! The end!

Charlie Jane reads a story about Audrey and her unrentable donut-shaped apartment after her breakup with Mary. The chain of their broken promises. “We’ll only eat candy we make ourselves!” Not. Audrey sits down at the computer to search for new roommates and is addicted to internet porn. She finds “master doug and lady bee” who want a live in part time sex slave, french maid, and nanny. Her vanilla ex doesn’t understand. “Maybe you should go to a Munch!?” says Mary as they continue to codependently call each other, post-breakup. The suburban squalor of Master Doug and Lady Bee’s cul de sac house in Alameda. I didn’t think you’d have so much stuff! I hope you can fit it into your hutch! Sara and I are cracking up. The maid uniform is from the Halloween store. Audrey longs to be subsumed in lifestyle D/S and scoured clean of her doubts. But suburban slavery doesn’t transfigure her. At least not yet. Creepy and funny and sad!

Charlie Getter. He likes to yell. We’re radioactive! I prefer the yelling to sing-song daydream twee-land. He’s preaching it. Walls fall. A couple of people call & respond and go “Yeah” at the right points. Gravity! Why is this place so messy! Rant on! This man has been in church with some snakes. Or can fake it from watching it on TV. I don’t care if your stock options have risen to 300 dollars a share because we are on a mountain and gravity expands and contracts like the heaving chest of a sleeping puppy! And we might be its dreams. Yes you heard me. A puppy. You probably heard Mr. Yelly too. New poem. (recite-yelled.) The ocean. Landlocked places. The audience attends! Bolivia… well actually Bolivia is sort of not landlocked or it wasn’t and it does have that one patch of beach. He does not like Kansas either and is probably Bucky’s friend. At least this is not boring, and has an Idea. I like more density of ideas though, and something that is more of a new idea. Or at least one new idea slammed into an old idea. However, cannot help but clap for walls falling and the awesomeness of oceans. Unless you’re Bolivia.

Thus ends my critique.

I’m curious to go back to Quiet Lightning and see what new writers pop up! I wish for this event to take its own format more seriously. The publishing venture is impressive & a good thing. I enjoyed that many of the stories and poems were San Francisco-centric with recognizable Bay Area landmarks and culture at their heart.

Next reading of any sort that I go to, I’m going to record the “hmmmmm” noise so as to make fun of it better.

Related posts:

Historical Hipster San Francisco Poetry

As I was reading up on the controversy about Blue Bottle Coffee putting a generator-drive truck with espresso machines into Dolores Park, I came across this mock documentary by “Kenita Burns” about the battle between Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle coffee hipsters in San Francisco:

The quote at the end about Joan Baez and the song for the closing credits were the funniest parts to me, because while I love listening to boomer hippies tell stories about the olden days and I admire their many accomplishments, they’re really fun to parody.

I came into reading about Dolores Park and the coffee controversy from Chicken John’s giant rambling rants on his mailing list. A Blue Bottle employee wrote to him and he went into a full blast of rhetoric on the subject. You know who else promised us solar power? GEORGE BUSH. And probably Hitler. I liked Annalee’s suggestion that Blue Bottle power its espresso machines by bicycle. Earnest park-goers would pedal away helpfully and the company could also hire bikers to generate the power necessary for expensive coffee. This would turn the whole concern from a PR debacle into a total PR win and Blue Bottle would end up beloved of all (except for people who notice, like Chicken John, that it’s still an incredibly bad idea to sell off public park space to private businesses.)

Annalee and Claire Light and Charlie Jane and Annalee’s friend Lynn sat there for hours in Cafe Petra working quietly, reading, writing, and coding. I was messing around with some problems in Drupal for work, while I think everyone else was writing their novels or blogging for their day jobs. Later that night I read one of Charlie’s stories which blew me away completely. Timmi wrote me really nice email about my long essay about the connections between women writers and thinkers, which made me swoon with happiness.

Yesterday I also spent some glorious hours reading about Drop City in Colorado, Zome which started as a dome construction thing and has morphed into alternate power systems and Zometool toy construction kits; the Hog Farm and Black Oak Ranch, the Whole Earth Catalog folks, and other utopian movements in Northern California, inspired by my visit to the geodesic domes of Oz Farm (former utopian commune home of SF State computer science professor Lawrence Kroll). Tim Miller seems to have written some interesting books on utopian communities. I ordered some of his books, the TC Boyle Drop City book, and Peter Rabbit’s book which sounds like a very DIY zine style “history”. It is difficult to find much mention of the women of these communes and they often go by pseudonyms and then change their names a couple of times anyway, as with much of my research into women doing — well, pretty much anything. I will be making a list though once I have some books to go on. The web sources suck for figuring out who the women were in these movements and what they might have been thinking. Certainly they were thinking some bitter things about dishwashing.

dishwashing in the domes

As I read and researched I thought over some of the poems I have cooking. I’m still on a long-poem kick after 10 years of thinking about long poems and what can be done in them with ideas. I still like short poems, but am not the sort of poet who sits down to look at a lake and writes a poem about a lake. How dreary!!! How middle class! I despise most poets’ aesthetics. They can take their gardens, their analysis of their relationships with their dead parents, their constipated little emotions they applaud as they’re finally pooped out, and their glurgy thoughts about bombs, and shove them.

Enough with the cranky poet. Here’s what I’m thinking about.

Anyway, it was pleasant to swim around in the shape of the unwritten poem, with words and phrases popping into my head and going onto the page. The big idea and combination or juxtaposition of ideas and images and things starts to take form. Oddly – this is almost a non-verbal process. The shape or form or echo or feel of the poem, as a poem, forms before there are words to go into the poem (or while there are only a few words or a phrase as the keystone or touchstone.) Poems begin to separate out from each other as it becomes clear what ideas go with which other ideas and how they all interrelate. So before I have much of anything, I know that I’m writing a long big poem about daylighting a San Francisco creek, with a hefty dose of wistful critique of eco-liberalism; or about the Whole Earth Catalog’s history, utopia, the Internet, broken skeletons of dreams and the homes they morph into, Alia and the God Emperor of Dune, and the torturer Autarch Severian and the way we treat (and eat) information and cultural memory.

The stuff I’m writing now and have been writing for the past couple of years is part of a slowly evolving book called “Unruly Islands” and while I know mostly no one else cares what a book of poetry is “about” or how its elements are related, I care deeply about the meta-narrative of a poetry book as a thing in itself.

The alchemical process of distilling language out of this inchoate stuff puts me into an ecstatic trance. I feel a little bit insane. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to switch gears back into real life, real language, and linear thinking. That switching gears is part of what I feel I’ve learned over the years to let me have a fairly comfortable life in society and still stay a poet. Of course the sleeping pills also help.

inside the domes

Related posts:

Dawn I heard a rag rip

Greg Hall died. He was a good friend and a great poet. It drove me crazy to see him just throw away garbage bags full of his own fantastic poetry. He could shed it as easy as he could shed another “residential hotel” style apartment or an old self. Greg understood ephemera. We’re always losing things. leaving the world behind with everything we do. I keep crying to think he’s not still seeing and writing and losing – losing so intensely – and leaving things behind. Now he’s left for good.

Sometimes he’d send me a pile of poems instead of throwing them away. I know Robert Pesich must have some, and Walter Martin, and F.A. Nettelbeck and certainly Bea Garth has got to have a ton.

Bitter, funny, sweet, profound, never boring or pretentious, slouching around chain smoking in his cowboy boots. He could swoop into cliche or pop culture or insanity and come out of that nosedive firing anti-bullshit bullets to blow your head off. Weird staccato heartfelt delivery full of line “breaks and “quote” “marks”. I will miss his strange late night drunken phone calls. The man could drunk dial you a poem or just ramble endlessly about Genet or Merle Haggard. Whatever it was would make me feel like I was flying, and could say anything, as a poet and madwoman, and it would be heard & understood. You know that feeling sometimes, with a person, when the things you might write in your most private soul broken-languagely, becoming text, just connected right in; talking to him opened that up direct to conversation. There wasn’t even any leaping to it, Greg was on that rocketship to fucking mars.

Greg reading Van Gogh Ambulance at a Barbershop late night living room Non-Salon, 2004.

Greg reading Chicken Little Shark Sky maybe around 2005?

Greg reading Pirate Ship 2005

some poems from Eos

CHICKEN LITTLE SHARK SKY
One by one
the parts of a body
arrive & attach
themselves
& flight
becomes more difficult
barely escaping
collision with chimneys
I sweep
through the air
with great effort
they are sharks
the left leg
the left foot
the wrists the hands
the neck the head
“I felt a great heaviness
in the water & everything
became silent”
then I was lifted
only to be
swept down
all the while
caught in a vise
“I felt no pain”
all I saw
was the eye
it seemed flat
& dead
& then the
water
turned
red
this is
getting
old
now the doctors
with aspirins like frisbees
& tubes & wires
& admonishments
every time
I light a smoke
I felt better
when I had
no body
& all I did
was fly
blind
& ecstatic
into
the
present
without
regret
or remorse
I recommend
to the young
not to age
& to fly fast
because
the sky
is
falling

Greg’s “Explanatory Notes to Poems” doodle of his attitude towards literary criticism. Funny!!!
Explanatory Notes to Poems

Just about 2 poems a year…

So here, by the grace of Liz Henry, arrives an
unobtrusive collection of 23 poems by the
troublesome trouble man, that restless and sleepy
man, the elusive Greg Hall.

These poems, spanning 12 years, intruded
themselves as others faded, the stack was about a
foot high and these fugitives from the
crumpling fist somehow charmed, each in their
own way, the madman, who, although having
written them, longed to find no value in them,
or to find them fatally marred – Anything to
allow an exit “towards oblivion”, as Genet once told
an interviewer, when asked, “Where do you think
you’re headed?”

Oblivion will take care of everyone – Though
perhaps that is better left unsaid. I’m only here
because this place, this planet, this hour, is
beautiful.

“Only in it for the poetry.”

I sincerely hope you find something to like in
these pages.

and if you don’t, or can’t, or won’t,
at least I died
with a sword in my hand.

Greg Hall
March 20, 2002

Self portrait doodle by Greg. You can see the shark from Chicken Little Shark sky (and other poems) and “The Man With the Hoe” (from the poem by Markham) in the background.
Greg's self portrait with shark and hoe

NO CHARGE

In my chubby
checker
existence
I go around
with pliers
in one hand
and a hammer
in the other
looking
for yr mother
so I can help
you out
I will twist
her thoughts so
you can find
a woman
who is not
crazy
with no screws
loose
then you
can
celebrate
the
birthday
of
yr
balls

(This poem especially hilarious out loud. It was in Cuts from the Barbershop)

I have Flame People as many people do & treasure; the poems from Inamorata, which I printed up into a sea-like little book with foam colored inside leaves; the manuscript of Whoregasm which I was going to publish with yellow legal pad paper marked up by cigarette burns and coffee mug rings and poem scribblings; Diary of a Desert Fox, and some other packets around here somewhere. Plus some recordings some of poems and some of Robert and me and Janel and mostly Greg, just rambling. But how much is out there? I wish I could read it. But more than that I’ll miss his out loud readings and his beautiful conversation and his bad ass, innocent, bad attitude.

THE MAGIC OF FOREVER

In the white morning light

everything was waiting.

Even the trees

in vibrant state of tension

seemed to be holding

a breath inside.

An implied cry

such as a crow’s

concealed itself

among the green leaves.

And though it is

late in the year

later in the year

than I have ever been

I too was waiting.

And now the Moon

faded in the sky

appearing as a Goddess.

And now the wind

orchestrating the trees.

And now the cries

the crows in the leaves.

And now the flood

the remembrances of you.

And now everything is moving

and now nothing is waiting.

And because I myself am lost

nothing can be lost

because everything

is lost.

(from Inamorata, dedicated to Abby Niebaur)

That little book, so amazing, what other great books of his, one-offs, or the product of the culling out process of several years, are out there?

I’d send him poems and he’d be all like WHERE DID THAT COME FROM and I’d be like WTF MAN, out of my BRAIN what do you think? and he’d be like WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THAT and I’d be like well what about you man, what are you doing, can you just like, send that shit to people to keep for you instead of throwing it away?!

We lost touch the last few years. I’ve missed him. Now I really miss him. He meant so much to me. It’s fucking unfair. I know how he’d be about it but it’s not fucking fair.

Greg Hall

A player piano
on slack key strings
called to tell me

“I can’t rest or sleep
until I know
you’ve found your place.”

Toothache – telephone –

“I used to have
this pain. My tongue
feels for it in the empty space.”

Oldwood sounding box
sweet
on the hollowphone

“Even as we speak
people we could have loved
die in their beds.”

Halt sway & slur worn-down cylinders
the turned up shirtsleeves of the player-mad ghost,
his lost gloves & blind fingers
lost generation

and

Rocinante

disconnected

like him
you clutched your wrecked folder of printouts
like a derelict with a bottle of fire in brown paper
lurched about the room shy and a bit vacant,
your lifeline –

I can follow you a little ways now into the dark.

Rambling to the bus station with my bag of books.
Goodbye arthritic knees, goodbye neurotic carousel,

my mind freed to lightspeed floating in your words
your halting voice
I hear another voice

Struck, stunned, to follow your lightning words up into the dark
your soul in the stars
flying
lost the sense
the stammering gaps,
the truth in the joke,
the little squares below waiting for my patient hand –

An artist

in

the family –

like

like

immortality.

Did you stop there underwater, waiting for a tug on the line?
The slow bubbles in the blood, clots in the brain, shocks near to death.
The anguished rope of vision
the damage done to us

Faithless Rocinante how could you leave your master here like this?

like

my father, my father’s father,
I fall from you like a plane in a tailspin, forgive me –
driving too fast down the highway with poetry in my lap
damaged
elementary particle I have seen photos of your tracks in cloud chambers

like

a crazy prince,
how cruel the world is!
How cruel the world’s beauty.
Old loon,
crying, haunted cracked vessel,

I follow your lightning words up into the dark beyond the thunderclouds
that cotton wool, that thick white, up to the clear night sky and the electric stars

Related posts:

WOMPO First annual festival of women’s poetry

The WOMPO women’s poetry mailing list has had an amazing month on its bulletin board; all of November they’ve hosted The First Annual Festival of Women’s Poetry online.

Their (our) international section, Women Poets from Around the World, is notable for over 100 posts on Filipina poets, curated by Luisa A. Igloria.

I’ve also really been enjoying the Foremothers posts by Ellen Moody. She gathers up poems by women from around the world from the past, and helps us not to lose our history as women poets. I respect her taste in poetry a lot and her blogging (and emailing) is impressively thorough.

Thanks to Shayla Mollohan and the rest of the WOMPO team for all their work this month! And to the list, just for being there all these years. Mostly, I’m a lurker there. But I love that list, especially for their self-organizing principles and all the people who step up and do the work.

Related posts:

Translation: Mariblanca Sábas Alomá

Mariblanca Sábas Alomá (1901–1983)

Mariblanca Sábas Alomá was an Ultraist feminist Cuban writer. She was involved with the first Congreso Nacional de Mujeres in Havana in 1923. Her work was published in El Cubano Libre, Diario de Cuba, Orto and El Sol in Havana. Sábas Alomá took literature courses in Mexico and also attended Colombia University in New York and Puerto Rico. She travelled throughout South America, worked as a journalist and editor, and was politically active as a communist and feminist.

tuesday, longest day ever

In Poetisas de América, Sábas Alomá’s contemporary María Monvel, with characteristic blunt opinion, says of her:

Mariblanca comenzó escribiendo versos blancos, soñodores, llenos de ritmo, musicalidad y vulgaridad. Mariblanca cambió de filas, se pulió, se cultivó, y hoy hace campear su estandarte en las filas del más refinado ultraismo. Poeta de las revoluciones, como la uruguaya Blanca Luz Brum, Don Quijote de las ilusiones extremas, Mariblanca se ha convertido como en broma, en una notable poetisa. Es de esperar que cuando aconche un poco su absolutismo izquierdista, Mariblanca será una de las grandes poetisas americanas. (193)
Mariblanca began writing poetry that was pretty, sonorous, full of rhythm, musicality and vulgarity. Mariblanca changed her tune, became refined, cultivated, and today has raised her banner in the ranks of the most savvy ultraists. Poet of revolutions, like the Uruguayan Blanca Luz Brum, a Don Quixote of extreme illusions, Mariblanca has converted herself from a trivial writer into a notable poetess. It’s to be hoped that when her absolutist leftism settles, Mariblanca will be one of the greatest American poetesses.

Sabás Alomá’s 1920 article “Masculinismo, no. Feminismo!” was published recently in a volume of her essays, Feminismo. In 1928 she published an article in which she characterized lesbianism (“garzonismo”) as a crime against nature, encouraged by capitalism, that would disappear with the advent of true socialism; for her, feminism was in complete opposition to lesbianism (Menéndez).

Magda Portal wrote critical articles about the socially engaged vanguardist poetry of Sabas Aloma in a 1928 issue of Repertorio americano, “El nuevo poéma y su orientación hacia una estética económica” (Unruh, Performing, 176).

In “Poema a una mujer aviadora,” Sábas Alomá spaces words freely across the page, leaping great distances in sweeping arcs, just as the aviator would zig-zag across the Atlantic. A later poet, the Argentine writer Elvira Hernández, might be paying homage to Sábas Alomá in her long poem “Carta de viaje,” both in form and in theme. Hernández describes a flight across the Atlantic from south to north, from Latin America to Northern Europe, focusing on the dislocated state of flying, not on land, sea, or earth, detatched from terrestrial metaphor.

Juana de Ibarbourou echoes the “shout” of Sabás Alomá in her 1930 poems “El grito,” “Las olas,” and “Atlántico” in which she longs to leap the distance between the world of the real and the world of ideals.


Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico

MUJER
mujer aviadora que quieres
atravesar dee un salto
el a t l á n t i c o
mujer
vereda en el motor una
bandera roja
y una canción
COMUNISTA
para que se limpie de toda macula
la ambición
que te lanza a la conquista
de la distancia
enorme
mujer
no asciendas por coqueteria
asciende porque el clamor intenso da
los hombres que sufren
t e p r e s t e s u s a l a s
mujer
tiende sobre la vastedad marina
que

S
E
P
A
R
A
dos continentes
el arco fraternal que una en un mismo
anhelo de
J U S T I C I A
a América
y a
Europa
mujer
desde una altura de 2,000 metros
deja caer sobre el mar
y sobre la tierra
L A N U E V A P A L A B R A
así veremos en la noche
un zig
zag
guiar
d e e s t r e l l a s j u b i l o s a s
mujer
esconde en la cabina de tu aeropleno el
G R I T O
– santo–y–seña de la América joven –
A N T I M P E R I A L I S M O
y clávalo
– para que toda Europa lo contemple
y
los ejércitos de
RUSIA
le hagan los saludos de ordenanza
EN LO MÁS ALTO DE LA TORRE DE EIFFEL
mujer
si tu sueño se rompe en el canto de una ola
no llegues a los dominios de lo
desconocido
rezando–padre nuestro, que estás
en los cielos
–sino regalando el oído
de los proletarios exámines
con un
– ARRIBA LOS POBRES DEL MUNDO
DE PIE LOS ESCLAVOS SIN PAN . . .


Poem of the aviator woman who would cross the Atlantic


WOMAN
woman aviator who wants
to cross in one bound
t h e a t l a n t i c
woman
in the engine falling into step with a
red flag
and a song that's
COMMUNIST
in order to cleanse everything soiled from
the ambition
that throws you at the conquest
of distance
enormous
woman
you don't ascend through coquetry
you ascend because the intense clamor of
people who suffer
l e n d s y o u w i n g s
woman
you stretch above the marine vastness
that

S
E
P
A
R
A
T
E
S
two continents
the fraternal arch that in the same
longing for
JUSTICE
for America
and for
Europe
woman
from a height of 2,000 meters
let fall across the sea
and across the land
T H E N E W W O R D
so that we'll see it in the night
a zig
zag
trail
o f j u b i l a n t c o n s t e l l a t i o n s
woman
hidden in the cabin of your airplane is the
S H O U T
– sacred–and–signal of the young America–
A N T I M P E R I A L I S T
and drive it home
– so that all Europe will see it
and
the multitudes of
RUSSIA
will make their comradely greetings the norm
ON THE HIGHEST PEAK OF THE EIFFEL TOWER
woman
if your dream breaks on the song of a wave
you won't arrive at the domains of what's
undiscovered
praying–our father, who art
in heaven
– not conforming to the rule
of the watchful proletariats
with a
RISE UP, POOR OF THE EARTH
STAND UP, SLAVES WITHOUT BREAD . . .
Related posts:

Translation: Claudia Lars

Here’s my chapter on Claudia Lars. I found this a hard poem to translate. Though I could’t do it justice, I enjoyed trying. Vanguardist poetry is hard, in general. I think because it is built on so much symbolism from other poems, but is trying to break free of that dependency; it feels like shorthand. Sometimes the poems I like the most, or like the most to translate, don’t come out that well. Maybe it’s overthinking. I’d like very much to translate her little book on Laika the cosmonaut dog.

Of course, I am especially fond of Lars because of my love of feminist science fiction. She’s a little bit science-fictiony, don’t you think? And this is certainly a feminist response to patriarchal poetics — a description of “woman” in poetry, but not with the metaphors and language that describes women in terms that are disempowering. It is possibly a difficult poem for that reason too; because it is trying to evade something.

Claudia Lars

Claudia Lars (1899-1974)

Margarita del Carmen Brannon Vega is her birth name; she is also called Carmen Brannon Beers or Carmen Brannon de Samoya Chinchilla. She was born in El Salvador. She studied and lived in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Her early work in the 1920s and 1930s was compared to Agustini, Mistral, Storni, and Ibarbourou. She lists as her early influences Cervantes, Fray Luís de León, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Góngora, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Burns, Coleridge, Whitman, Poe, Dickinson, Shelley, Byron, Yeats, Blake, and Darío (Barraza 142). Critics called her a lyrical postmodernist. Later, she was considered part of the Vanguard, writing in both formal and free verse.

Her books include Tristes mirajes (1916); Estrellas en el pozo (1934), and Canción redonda (1937). She also wrote poems and books for children, sonnets to famous women writers of many countries, and, later in the 20th century, she wrote a poem cycle on the cosmonauts of the United States and Russia–including the dog Laika.

“Dibujo” sets out a bold feminist vision of the future. The poem’s woman “que llega,” who’s coming, arriving now, or will soon arrive, transcends the usual gendered metaphors. Her ascension is not like flight, and not like the growing of a plant that is rooted in the earth. Instead, Lars describes a woman who stands up, who has agency and raises herself up with all her intelligence and power.


Dibujo de la mujer que llega

En el lodo empinada,
No como el tallo de la flor
y el ansia de la mariposa . . .
Sin raíces ni juegos:
más recta, más segura
y más libre.

Conocedora de la sombra y de la espina,
Con el milagro levantado
en los brazos triunfantes.
Con la barrera y el abismo
debajo de su salto.

Dueña absoluta de su carne
para volverla centro del espíritu:
vaso de lo celeste,
domus áurea,
gleba donde se yerguen, en un brote,
la mazorca y el nardo.

Olvidada la sonrisa de Gioconda,
Roto el embrujo de los siglos,
Vencedora de miedos.
Clara y desnuda bajo el día limpio.

Amante inigualable
en ejercicio de un amor tan alto
que hoy ninguno adivina.
Dulce,
con filtrada dulzura
que no daña ni embriaga a quien la prueba.

Maternal todavía,
sin la caricia que detiene el vuelo,
ni ternuras que cercan,
ni mezquinas daciones que se cobran.

Pionera de las nubes.
Guía del laberinto.
Tejedora de vendas y de cantos.
Sin más adorno que su sencillez.

Se levanta del polvo . . .
No como el tallo de la flor
que es apenas belleza.


Sketch of the woman of the future


Standing tall in the mud.
Not like the flower's stalk
and butterfly’s desire . . .
No roots, no flitting,
more erect, more sure
and more free.

Knower of shadow and thorn,
With miracle held high
in her triumphant arms.
With obstacle and abyss.
beneath her stride.

Absolute queen of her flesh
returned to the center of her spirit:
vessel of the celestial,
domus aurea, home of the golden;
clod where shoots burst forth into
maize and fragrant flower.

Forgotten: the Mona Lisa's smile.
Broken: the spell of centuries.
Conquered: the fears.
Bright and naked in the pure, clean day.

Unequalled lover
in enjoyment of a love so lofty
that no one today could predict it.
Sweet,
with controlled sweetness
that doesn't hurt or intoxicate the drinker.

Maternal still,
without the caress that holds back flight
nor tenderness that traps,
nor submission and giving in, that little by little, smothers.

Pioneer of the clouds.
Guide to the labyrinth.
Weaver of veil and song.
Adorned only in her simplicity.

She stands up from the dust . . .
Not like the flowering stem
that’s not so beautiful.
Related posts:

Translation: Emilia Bernal

Here’s yet another section from my anthology! Enjoy. The poem about the rose is kind of naughty – just thought I’d point that out in case you’re not naturally dirty-minded.

Emilia Bernal (1884-1964)

Emilia Bernal de Agüero was born in Cuba, and lived in Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile, and New York. She was married young and had four children before 1908. She taught college literature. In 1909 she separated from her husband, and began publishing in 1910. After her divorce, she joined the Cuban diplomatic staff. She was known as a rebel, non-conformist, and political writer (Vega Ceballos). She wrote for La Nación, Bohemia, Social, and El Fígaro (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes).

The Basque writer Llorenç Villalonga, author of the play Silvia Ocampo (1935), wrote the novel Fedre and the first part of Madame Dillon based on his relationship with Bernal (Pomar).

Emilia Bernal

Henríquez Ureña mentions Bernal as a modernist and follower of Martí in his history of modernismo. Emilia Bernal translated from Catalan, Portuguese, and other languages into Spanish; her translation work includes a book of poems by Rosalia del Castro.

Her publications include: Alma Errante, poems (1916); Cómo los pájaros! poems and translations (1923); Layka Froyka, autobiography (1925); Los nuevos motivos, 1925; Exaltación (1934); Poetas catalanes de hoy, translations (1927); Cuestiones cubanas para América, political essays, (1928); and Negro (1938).

Though her work is often spoken of as personal, modernista, or lyrical, Bernal was engaged in politics for much of her life and read a series of lectures in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere on Cuban and United States politics (Davies 22). Along with many other feminists such as María Luisa Milanés, she allied herself with anti-racist movements and described herself as a sister-in-arms of enslaved people – going so far as to declare that all women were slaves because of the lack of female suffrage and other factors (Davies 57).

Anderson-Imbert said of her: “Tender, ardent, intuitive, was capable of denying these qualities in herself in order to complicate sounds which brought her close to a poetry which, under the heading ‘abnormality’ will be studied in the second part of this panorama. Those who remain, then, are Cubans of the ‘abnormality’–Mariano Brull, Navarro Luna, and others . . .” (337). What Anderson-Imbert calls “the abnormality” is the “vanguardist subversion” against modernismo.

Bernal is noticably absent from many biographical dictionaries of Latin American writers.

“Pedrería” plays with modernista color symbolism; the gems represent ideals of perfect beauty. Rather than setting a scene of fantasy to which the soul of the poet is transported, or a situation of transmutation to a plane of ideals, Bernal engages sensually and physically with the perfect beauty of the gems. “A una rosa” (1916) is a poem in sexta rima with a scandalous subtext: the rose and its stalk are limp and drooping, while the poet wishes and imagines that her efforts will make it stand erect again. “Hierro” is from the México chapter of Bernal’s 1937 book América. There is an earlier version of the poem from 1925, but I have not yet found it. In “Hierro,” Bernal ventures into the realm of free verse and presents a vision of industrialization, and Mexico, as boldly but perturbingly masculine.

Pedrería


Ámbar. Mármol. Zafir. La algarabía
de un cofre de fakir. Que se aproveche
de tanto encanto mi osadía. Eche
a revolver en él la mano mía.

Alabastro y azur. Sangre del día.
Piedras a granel. Rosas de leche.
Carcajadas de luz. Mi afán estreche
y agite la ofuscante pedrería.

Mar. Cielo. ¡Sol, entre mis brazos!
¡Fuego
de los claros diamantes con que juego!
Malquitas, topacios. ¡Serpentinas

de centelleos en mis manos! ¡Presas
en los dedos guirnaldas de turquesas,
lapislázuli, jade, aguas marinas!


Jewels


Amber. Marble. Sapphire. The jingling babble
of magic treasure. May my bold desires
make the most of such enchantment. Let me
stir them around with my hand.

Alabaster and azure. Day's blood.
Stones in a heap. Roses made of milk.
Great laughter of light. My longing grasps
and tumbles the precious jewels.

Sea. Sky. Sun in my arms!
Fire
of bright diamonds playing!
Malachite, topaz. Serpentine ribbons
sparkling in my hands! Caught
in my fingers, wreaths of turquoise,
lapis lazuli, jade, aquamarine!


A una rosa


O rosa, ¡rosa mía! que ayer lozana fuiste,
por qué doblas ahora lacia, debil y triste,
tus pétalos marchitos, tu cáliz sin verdor.
¿Le cuentas a la tierra tus dulces remembranzas
como en largo secreto sus muertas esperanzas
la moribunda virgen le cuenta al confesor?

Pensando en lo que fuiste y al ver cómo feneces,
quisiera alzar el tallo en donde languideces,
tornarte la frescura, la belleza, el color,
volverte en un suspiro tu aliento perfumado,
acercarte mis labios y a un beso prolongado
prender en ti, de nuevo, suavísimo el calor.



To a rose


Oh rose, rose of mine! that once sprang sprightly up,
why do you bend double, flaccid, weak and sad,
your petals withered, your once-green calyx pale?
Do you tell the earth the sweetness of your past,
like the long secret story of dead hopes
a dying virgin whispers to her priest?

Thinking on what was was, and to see how you decline,
I'd wish to raise the stalk on which you languish,
to give fresh strength to you; beauty, color;
to return, with a sigh, your perfumed breath
to bring you to my lips and in a long, long kiss
press upon you new, most softly, heat and fire.


Hierro


¡Un hombre de hierro!
De hierro las carnes del pecho invencible.
De hierro los bíceps y tríceps del brazo que erecta triunfante ademán.
Las manos de hierro y el vientre.
Y los muslos columnas potentes de hierro, y las piernas,
cual zócalos bravos sostenes de aquel formidable titán,
con el pie clavado en la tierra apretando en los dedos de garra
las raíces del árbol que arranca del bíblico Adán

De hierro los ojos.
De hierro los dientes.
De hierro el cerebro, los pulmones y el corazón,
los riñones, el bazo y el sexo.
Por fuera y por dentro un hombre completo de hierro.
¡La fuerza!
La fuerza más grande que el tiempo a la vida ha lanzado
es su encarnación.


Iron


A man of iron!
Iron the flesh of his invincible chest.
Iron his biceps and triceps, his arm raised in triumphant sign.
His hands of iron and his belly.
And his thighs potent columns of iron, and his calves,
brave pedestals sustaining that formidible Titan,
with his foot nailed to the earth, with clawed fingers he seizes
the roots of the tree from the Biblical Adam.

Iron his eyes.
Iron his teeth.
Iron his brain, his lungs and heart,
his kidneys, spleen, and sex.
Inside and out a man completely made of iron.
Strength!
The greatest strength that time has launched
is his incarnation.
Related posts:

Translation: Jesusa Laparra (1820-1887)

Here’s another chapter of my thesis. I hope someone enjoys this or finds it useful! Someday I’d love to spend a few years traveling around to different libraries in Spanish America looking up old issues of these journals, finding and collecting and translating poems.

Jesusa Laparra (1820-1887)

Jesusa Laparra and her sister Vicenta, originally from Guatemala, founded and edited a women’s journal, La Voz de la Mujer, in the mid-19th century; started a literary magazine, El Ideal; and wrote for other progressive and feminist journals. Jesusa wrote poetry on mystic, romantic, and religious themes. Her books include Ensayos poéticos (1854) and Ensueños de la mente (1884) (Méndez de la Vega).

Her sister, Vicenta Laparra de la Cerda (1831-1905) was a poet, playwright, and essayist on the rights of women. With Jesusa, she published several journals. A mother of eight children, Vicenta was known as a singer and soloist, collaborating and performing with other artists for benefit of the Teatro Carrera. She is also known as the creator and founder of the Teatro Nacional in Guatemala. Her political essays in El Ideal resulted in her being forced into exile from Guatemala to Mexico, where she founded a school for girls. Vicenta published books of poems, including Poesia and Tempestades del alma; plays such as “La hija maldita,” “Los lazos del crimen,” and “El ángel caído;” the novel La Calumnía (1894); and other works of history and literary criticism.

The Laparra sisters and Vicenta’s husband went into exile again, from Mexico to El Salvador and Costa Rica, where they continued their commitment to teaching women “self-improvement.” Jesusa and her sister fought not only for the rights of women but for the rights of Native Americans. Though she was partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair for many years, known as “La poetisa cautiva” or ‘The Captive Poetess,’ she continued her careers of writing, teaching, and public speaking (Laparra de la Cerda).

The Laparra sisters’ political and literary circle included María Cruz, Elisa Monge, J. Adelaida Chéves and her sisters, Dolores Montenegro y Méndez, Lola Montenegro, and Carmen P. de Silva. There might be connections between the Laparra sisters and another set of interesting sisters: the Guatemalan poets and editors Jenny, Blanca, and María Granados, who wrote for El Grito del Pueblo and who founded the magazine Espigas Sueltas in 1929.

Many, in fact most, Latin American anthologies and biographical dictionaries that I consulted did not include information on the Laparra sisters despite their extensive international publishing and editing history. A small selection of their verses can be found in Acuña Hernández’s Antología de poetas guatemaltecos (1972).

“La risa” (1884) is written in redondillas, that is, rhymed quartets of octosyllabic lines de arte menor. It describes the emotions behind a laugh of despair and the impossibility of communicating grief and pain in words.


La Risa


Hay una risa sin nombre,
sólo de Dios comprendida
risa sin placer ni vida,
risa de negro dolor;
funeraria, envenenada,
más dolorosa que el llanto,
porque es engañoso manto
donde se oculta el dolor.

Risa que, al salir del labio,
para animar el semblante,
deja una huella punzante
de amargura y sinsabor.
Infeliz desventurado,
es aquel que así se ría,
que esa risa es de agonía,
es de muerte, es de pavor.

Como el esfuerzo supremo
que estremece al moribundo,
al desprenderse del mundo
para nunca más tornar:
dilatada la pupila,
ríe con indiferencia,
despreciando la existencia
que por siempre va a dejar.

Así es la risa funesta
de un corazón desdichado
por un dolor desgarrado
que no se puede arrancar.
Lleva la muerte consigo,
y ríe sin esperanza,
porque nada, nada alcanza
su martirio a disipar.The laugh


There's a laugh that can't be named,
that only God understands;
a laugh without life or joy,
a laugh of black sorrow;
funerary, dripping venom,
more painful than a lament,
because it's a cloak of deceit
to hide pain and grief.

Laugh that, as it leaves your lips
to liven your face,
leaves a heartrending trail
of bitterness and discontent.
Unlucky devil,
that's why you laugh;
it's a laugh of agony,
of death, of terror.

Like the last throes
that shake the dying
when they give up this world
never to return;
eyes open and staring,
you laugh with indifference,
despising an existence
you're leaving forever.

That's how it is: the fatal laugh
of a heart undone
by clawing pain
that can't be rooted out.
You endure your own death,
and you laugh without hope,
because nothing–nothing could match
or dispel your martyrdom.

Photo of Vicenta Laparra de la Cerda – Jesusa’s sister

Related posts: