Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reading in Seattle this Friday, Apr 25

Liz Reading at Queer Open Mic
Originally uploaded by Liz.
I am road tripping up to Seattle this week! If you are there please come see me at this event ! I would love to see you all and would love the support. April 25, 8pm, Annex Theatre, 1100 East Pike Street.

You will hear me say the word "Lezzie" in a Texas accent. Also, I promise to wear leather pants. There will be bubbling, and silliness, and insane talk of poems and roadside geology and the roots of the Klamath Mountains. I will pop a wheelie for you and you may pat me on the head and tell me I am brave (JUST KIDDING about the patting).

I will not have my child with me, but you can bring yours, as long as you keep them out of the bar area and don't mind them hearing some intense stories of playground bullies and maybe some cussing, plus you realize my story is about being queer, queer, queer. All the stories are AMAZING and are written about elementary school and early middle school experiences & with that audience in mind!

Get info & buy tickets here: Can I Sit W/You reading

Tickets are priced at $5 and $12, which means you can choose how much to donate. Money all goes to my hometown Special Ed PTA.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Code that isn't at all poetry, but that is structure & patterns

Happy Poetry Month! Rather than poeting, for the past few days I've been twiddling with code. It is much the same state of mind as translating, or basic composition, but for me at least, not quite poetry. It does require moving a bunch of words around, arranging them, and imagining their interpretation, organizing words in order to have an effect. For poetry or composition, an effect on a listener/reader, so you are imagining a logical and emotional state and the interpretation and effect of a person. For code obviously you are writing so that a machine will follow your orders perfectly; but less obviously you are writing for yourself in the future and for other future, human readers of your procedural pattern of thought. You are writing for your future (self or other) human, so they can modify and extend that code and put it to other uses. In other words, it has a bit in common with an oral or folk tradition. Repetition and patterns are good in poetry if you want to create structure for extension and improvisation.

So, just now I was doing some of my baby-Perl for some contract work. And the deal is, there are a bunch of users, and their accounts go through various bureaucratic steps, and through various work people and departments, some steps requiring others to happen first, for the account to become fully active. This is a fairly common situation for any institution. So, I had a Perl script that would take some command line options and then would do various things with the user and account data. As more people started realizing I could manipulate account stuff, and could generate reports, etc, they started asking me for new tasks. So, the hacky little script grew very quickly to a giant horrible tangly mess full of regular expressions that I did not understand anymore, 30 minutes after I wrote and tested them. A reg exp is a thing of beauty but it is not a joy forever. Instead, it makes my head hurt.

So I started about 4 times over this last month to rewrite that mess to make it easily understandable and extensible. I scribbled and thought on post-it notes so I could try to break down what needed to happen into chunks that I could move around & visualize, easier than in a 200 line text file.

It went kind of like this: use GetOpt::Long to tell from the command line what kind of report or change is required. Log in to several systems. Iterate over a range of account IDs in a big loop. Then do some http page getting and parsing. Then a lot of if else statements to see what command line option is turned on. Mixed in with some more tests and if elsing. Then again depending on command line option, do some other junk, write to some other web pages and outfiles. At the end of all that looping, write some more outfiles.

Ugh! You can see that any new capability meant that I had to do more page parsing and more reg exping, as well as thinking through all the logic of the whole if-else mess.

Today I suddenly realized several things. Speed doesn't matter for this. I can set it going and let it chug away.

So, number one, for each user ID, just read in all the possible pages that have info on that account. It is only 5 web pages on 3 different systems. Read them in and parse out all their fields.

Number two, think of each account as having a state. There are 8 different bits of information that change account state, out of the 50+ possible bits of info. So, after parsing all the pages, look at the 8 pieces of information I care about, to determine the account's state.

For things I then want to do, they fall into two categories. Reporting and state change. Reporting is easy. For changing account state, I can define for each case of one state to another; what actions it takes to change the account state. There are objects, and states, and transactions.

I have never really understood object-orientedness no matter how many times I think about it, and use and write code that is in theory, sort of object-oriented. It's not like I get it now, but I get it more than I did.

Suddenly everything clicked into place and I understood how to write the code in a way that would be useful and elegant. I understood the root of the problem. It all fell together in a system. It looked like a pattern, like information that was beautiful. I know, it is a bunch of account data in a bureaucratic procedure. After years of being "programmer analyst" doing back end tools for university departments, I had to find beauty where I could. The "click" feeling means I look back on my month of sporadic attempts to write this program, and it looks like I was brain-deadishly trying to make something out of legos by gluing their corners together, when all the while I could have been snapping them together how they are supposed to go. But, before, I could not see the intersections.

So, just now I had the exhilarating (yet slightly shame-faced) feeling that I had just reinvented the wheel, or some basic principle of computer science that if I had any sense, I would have known from taking some classes. On the other hand, taking computer science classes doesn't guarantee you know what you are doing or can build something that other people find useful & usable.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Carmen Berenguer wins Ibero-American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize


Happy Poetry Month! Congratulations to Carmen Berenguer who has won the 2008 Premio Iberoamericana de Poesía Pablo Neruda.

I am very happy for her!

And for everyone who will now read her marvelous poems!

It makes me extremely happy that work so radical, experimental, feminist, and wild, has been recognized and honored.

carmen berenguer

"Es una sorpresa por la poesía que yo hago, que de pronto puede ponerle trabas al entendimiento y al sentimiento. Mi poesía es sonora, interna, musical, digo cosas increíbles", comenta. "Soy una mujer combativa, vengo de los conventillos, de la pensión y esos argumentos hicieron que me fijara en las injusticias", agrega.

It's a surprise because of the poetry I write, that can suddenly put up blocks to understanding and feeling. My poetry is echoing, internal, musical, I say unbelievable things. I'm a fighting woman, I come from the projects, from poor neighborhoods, and that background fixed my thoughts on injustice.

Berenguer often breaks words and form, with poem titles at the bottom of pages or strangely broken across two pages, like this:


and she ranges into concrete poems in her early work such as Bobby Sand desfallece en el muro as well as in later work such as the poem typeset to look like the Chilean flag. You can see a glimpse of that poem above.

I have translated some of her work over the last few years.

So far, I have spent the most time reading A media asta and La gran hablada. While I love her short poems, I am most fond of her longer work which sprawls and rants and sobs and screams across the page, long poems that build me up to a peak of understanding. It is not "leaping poetry" in the way that Bly meant, with graceful elisions. It is broken, unclear, obstructive, difficult, obstreporous. And, that is suitable, that is what is right, when you write about political violence, about gendered violence, about bodies, oppression, about Chile under Pinochet, as Berenguer does.

Carmen Berenguer

That is what I love best in poetry. I love when it has physicality, when it fights with sense, when it has elbows that stick out, when it feels like wading through mud or struggling to make my own broken body act and endure. It is poetry that rewards effort just as bodies do. Really kick ass poetry, seriously ass-kicking, rejects easy understanding, the facile Hmmmm and nod of agreement. It is perturbing! Bothersome! Berenguer's work is all that. I think of her work as mixing up the neobaroque/neobarroso with écriture féminine.

I want to quote some of her poems and post my translations, but I am trying to get them published in journals at the moment. So here are a few excerpts. This is from "Bala humanitaria", "Humanitarian bullet".

.....Ese dardo
Penetra rompiendo la piel disparado a cien metros
Rompe la piel en sugundos el dedo gatillado
Rompe el silencio y lo dispara
Ondas sonoras irradian el campo comprometiendo el sonido
Interlocutor del suave murmullo El dardo penetrando
Los ojos abiertos y un ojo semicerrado afinando la puntería
El hombre acaricia el gatillo con deseos
..... This shaft
Penetrates breaking the skin shot at a hundred meters
Breaks the skin in seconds the trigger finger
Breaks the silence and shatters it
Sonorous waves irradiate the compromised field of sound
Interlocutor of the smooth whisper The shaft penetrates
Open eyes and a half-closed eye sharpened the aim
The man caresses the trigger with desires

Here I thought for a long time about how to translate "dardo" and though "dart" or arrow would be more literal, I think "shaft" gets the phallic imagery properly into the poem. It is important because it is a poem that links rape and violence, that takes a gendered view of the sort of violence that can consider it right to make international law about the correct way to kill people with proper bullets. The lines on penetration and holes are not an accident... Further, I would say that it is good to note how Berenguer speaks about sound, about echoes and fracturing; this comes up elsewhere in her work and I think it is right to think of it as the Howl, as the song of the poet, the fundamental sound, poetry, art, creation -- broken deliberately in order to reveal multiple truths. So, this is a poem about international politics and humanitarian bullets, violence; but it is also about gender, violence, rape; there is an industrial note, recalling thoughts of metals and mining, global industry; and it is also about words, poetry, logic, speaking, art, creation. That is the kind of poem I can get behind, 100%.

I feel inspired to go work on my translation of "Mala piel" now... and will post some excerpts from it later this month.

a media asta

It is maybe just a particular pleasure for me that poems like this have been honored in the name of Neruda. While I love Neruda's poetry very much and honor him, I have some difficulties as a feminist with the way he writes about women's bodies and how they become his male dominated metaphor of art and life and love, his landscape to traverse and discover and see. In fact, Neruda-worshiper Robert Bly is just the same for me sometimes with his graceful, easy "leaping". For me as a poet, having spent years thinking about this in the way that poets do: I say fuck the leap. It is like cheating. Get your feet on the ground, dudes! Stay in your body! Go fast, but stay dirty! Thus it is particularly sweet to me, for a fantastic strong political woman who writes from and of the body, who makes words really embody, to win a prize named after Neruda.


* YouTube: el ojo no es un territorio, a video-poema.

* Palabra Virtual: The text of selected poems including a small fragment of one of my favorites, "Mala piel", and a recording of "Desconocido".

* YouTube: Berenguer en Chile Poesía

* Chilean wins Neruda Prize for poetry

* Carmen Berenguer, Ibero American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize - with brief intervew.

* Pablo Neruda Prize 2008 to Chilean poet

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Poetry month, A little playful translation

I'd love to see more interpretations of this odd little poem by David Rosenmann-Taub. It's from Cortejo y Epinicio, 1949.


- líneas -
y puños.
¿Qué más?
Los panoramas.

Hierarchy (two ways)

- lines -
and fists.
What else?


Neural nets
- powerlines -
and grabbing.
What else?
Seeing everything.
This, too?

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Poetry Month: Day 3, Anthologies

I love, love, love anthologies. I love to read their prefaces and introductions and all the surrounding "matter" and to think about how they were put together. I love to have a whole lot of different poets conveniently in one place, just like I love a rapid-fire reading with 30 people in a row, rapid exposure to many styles.

Pretty soon the Aunt Lute Anthology of U.S. Women Writers will be out! Yeah! Anything with Gloria Anzaldua, Margaret Cho, Elizabeth Bishop, Wanda Coleman, and Bikini Kill in it all together is going to be fucking glorious!

A couple of weeks ago I got my copy of Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv. A couple of years ago there was hot discussion on the Women Poets mailing list about doing a book. It was feminist collective hullabaloo combined with large-scale mailing-list-drama! And it came out beautifully, affirming my faith in the Magic Internets and in amazing people who do hard work.

Letters to the World
Editorial tasks were divvied up - Everyone stuck with it - A policy was set to accept and publish one poem by anyone on the list who sent something in - People who feared the prospect of putting their precious Work into something that would label them as Amateur, or Vanity-Press, or that would Suck because of no hierarchical editorial control, were argued against passionately - Inclusivity and anti-snobbery won the day for many people. The result, a very beautiful, thick, amazing book from Red Hen Press. 259 contributors from 19 countries. It is incredibly beautiful. The poems are good. I'm not at ALL embarrassed to be in this book, and I can't say the same of some other more "legitimate" journals or books. The poems are good and they're not all the same-samey workshoppy voice that drives me crazy about so many poetry journals.

Later today I'll post some excerpts.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Poetry Month: Day 2, Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

enriqueta arvelo larriva

Happy Poetry Month! Today I have been thinking about Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, a Venezuelan poet from the 20th century (1886-1962). Her poems are small and odd, but huge internally, like a pocket universe captured and studied from all sides; a bit abstract and philosophical. This, at a time when it seems to me like the way to be a famous woman poet was to blaze passionately forth in a sort of meteoric scandal of words. Arvelo Larriva's positioning of herself is at the same time very personal and connected to the specific landscape of the Venezuelan llanos, the central plains -- a tropical prairie. But at the same time she positioned herself as a very abstract, analytical, point of human consciousness.

Arvelo Larriva began writing and publishing around 1920 that I can verify (but I have also read she was a poet beginning at age 17, much earlier). Most of her poems that I've translated were published in the 1920s, but I don't have all the research done to know exactly when they were written.

I'd like to point out a pattern I have found in looking at the work of women poets in Latin America. Their poetry was often being published little by little in journals, the same journals as more famous men who were their peers, who were in their same literary circles. But the men became famous more quickly, had books published earlier. I think this is one reason that books of literary history tend to describe the women as footnotes, afterthoughts, imitators, or as not quite catching the wave of a literary movement. It appears from short biographical notes on Arvelo Larriva that she began publishing in 1939. This is not true -- she was publishing as early as 1918, and certainly throughout the 1920s, and was part of the Generación de 1918; and was part of the Vanguard of the 1920s student movement as well.

Why do I care? Well, because histories talk about those movements - but leave her out, or only mention her 20 years after her vital, early work. The elision of 20 or more years of her publishing history means that she is also cut off from politics; her brother and others of her political circle were jailed in the 1920s. She remained in their hometown on the prairies. My feeling is that the story of her life might be quite interesting and complicated, but that complication is not represented in any descriptions I've seen -- which just marvel at how she could write clever poems even though she lives out in the sticks instead of in the exciting capital.

Her work persistently reminds me of the somewhat better-known poems by David Rosenmann-Taub from the 1950s. I'll talk about his poems later this month and connect back to this post on Arvelo Larriva. I also think of some of the short airy poems of García Lorca.

So, onward to a few poems. They might not be your cup of tea. But I get very excited over their depth and over how different they are from other poems of the time. They stand out to me. Also, since I have read a bunch of her work, I am able to see some things in a larger context. So if it seems that I am reading too much into a tiny poem, try to bear with me.


Un oscuro impulso incendió mis bosques
¿Quién me dejó sobre las cenizas?

Andaba el viento sin encuentros.
Emergían ecos mudos no sembrados.

Partieron el cielo pájaros sin nidos.
El último polvo nubló la frontera.

Inquieta y sumisa, me quedé en mi voz.


A dark impulse burned up my forests.
Who is left for me from the ashes?

The wind roamed alone, meeting no one.
Echoes emerged, mute, unsown.

Birds without nests divided the skies.
The last dust clouded the frontier.

Anxious and meek, I dwell in my voice.

"Destino" can be read in light of the Venezuelan llanos and the prairie burn-off of the dry season. Yet, like many of her poems, it can be read as a political commentary. There is the “dry season” layer, specific to the geography of Barinas, where she lives; the tangled, thorny groves are burned with controlled fires in order to clear room for new growth for vast herds of cattle. The poem could also work as a personal one about philosophical and spiritual renewal. However, the “pájaros sin nidos” ‘birds without nests’ can also be read as the journalists, students, and poets who had to flee the country under the rule of Juan Vicente Gómez, after the 1927 student uprisings or other political clashes.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

The creative act of the word, of poetry, is presented as a solution to the problems posed in “Destino” as in many of her other poems. I see her as writing with intense vitality about violence, revolution, politics. But as encoding those concepts within a sort of personal artistic framework, where the poet's voice breaks out of everyday life, a jailbreak from reason and order.

To be honest here on my translation, I am not happy with those birds without nests. Well, how long can one stare at the page muttering, "homeless birds... birds without nests... nestless..... no, dammit" before one just goes with whatEVER. Sometimes, I will be driving down the highway and a line of a poem I translated years ago will pop into my head -- one of this sort of line, where my English is clumsy and graceless -- and the perfect, beautiful phrase will come to me in a flash. From what people say, this happens to all translators and that is why we are always revising. I can work very hard on a translation, and feel in the groove for 90% of it, but that other 10% that just wasn't inspired, is a torment.

I am also fond of this poem:

Vive una guerra

Vive una guerra no advenida. Guerra
con santo y seña, con la orden del día,
con partes, con palomas mensajeras.

Guerra pujante dentro de las vidas.
No digo en las arterias; más adentro.

Ni un estampido ni un rojor de fuego
ni humo vago dan desnudo indicio.

Mas paz de tiza la refleja entera.

And I will give you the first bit, which I think is interesting to translate. Try it yourself as a challenge, if you like.
A war lives

A war lives, unheralded. War
with saint and sign, with the order of day,
with parts of things, with messenger doves.

War throbbing inside whole lives.
I don't say in the veins; deeper inside.

“Vive una guerra” continues the internalization of violent metaphors, with war metaphors to represent existential and philosophical struggles.

Someday I would like to really do her poetry justice, and translate her first two books. Just the little bit that I do know about her family (which included many poets) and her life and about Venezuelan politics, history, and geography, illuminates the poems for me. If I could do the original research, find the journals where her work first appeared, read her poems in that context, I imagine that I could translate them better, explain them, present them in a context that would help other people see where the poems lead.

There is more to say about the ways that Arvelo Larriva was framed as a woman, and about the gendering of literary history as it happens and in hindsight. I guess I'll go into that more in future posts as I talk about other poets and their lives.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

What I truly wish for is the ability to get some good, lowdown, dirty gossip. I'd like to know the poets I translate, who have been dead since before I was born, in the same way that I know the poets who are alive now in my city; what do people think of them, really? What are they like? Would I have liked hanging around with Enriqueta? Was she rude, kind, radical, bitchy, boring, pedantic, vindictive, wise? Was she more interesting when she was young? What was the course of her life? With many poets, I do get a sense for the arc of their lives and careers. With Enriqueta, I barely know a thing. And am not likely to get it in this lifetime. Maybe I'll find an old journal or two, or a letter; her letters with Gabriela Mistral and Juana de Ibarbourou. Just knowing those letters exist, changes everything for me.

Maybe someone who knows more will write a longer Wikipedia entry. More likely, some boorish great-nephew will write to me and go "My god! You're talking about old Aunt Netty and her insane scribbling! I didn't think anyone cared about that! Blah blah blah, all those poetry readings, grande dame of Barinitas... She smelled like dusty lavender and dead mice... But, she made good cookies." I can't romanticize my dead poets too much, because I always imagine out those great-nephews who have become excellent dentists and who have healthy lives and perspectives lacking in poetry, who knew only the human being and not the metaphysical point in space and time that was the free-floating philosopher poet.

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