Sunday, June 27, 2010

Man and Camel - The Precarious Dance of Poetry

In "Man and Camel," Mark Strand offers us a beautiful poem in which a narrator is smoking on their porch and sees a man and camel walking by. The man and camel sing a mysterious song.

A full copy of the poem is available here:

Through the course of the poem, the narrator reveals the meaning of the metaphor "man and camel." He states that the pair "seemed/an ideal image for all uncommon couples." The man and camel have nearly disappeared from the narrator's sight, but they return to the porch after the metaphor has been revealed:

... They stood before my porch
staring up at me with beady eyes, and I said:
"You ruined it. You ruined it forever."

In this poem, revealing the metaphor is very effective. It seems to warn poets not to reveal too much in their poems. Readers often have the desire to know what a poem "means," especially if they are new to poetry. A good poem causes us to reflect and consider the meaning. The meaning may seem different to various people, or may even seem to change to an individual over the course of their lifetime.

"Man and Camel" draws our attention to the fact that there is such a delicate balance to a poem. A poem needs to be clear enough to connect with the reader, but still needs to hold back from telling everything.

--John Kippen

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The World Cup

The 2010 FIFA World Cup begins in South Africa on Friday June 11th. A fever is coming like a fiend in anguish; waiting, anticipating, even watching the glitchy, snow storm looking Spanish channels for whatever obscure match will pass the time.

Football. Soccer. FĂștbol. The words mean the same. Words for ‘the beautiful game.’ The World Cup is the most watched event on Earth, surpassing the likes the Olympics, Super Bowl, and women’s Roller Derby Finals.

Nelson Mandela remarked that “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does.” Perhaps this is why every four years nearly all nations attempt to qualify for the World Cup, regardless of civil war, political strife or being governed by a despot.

The scope and reach of the game is stunning. While every country has its soccer pitches, from the greenest grasses to a dirt patch with sprinkles of broken glass, every country also has its poets.

In anticipation of the opening match which features Mexico vs South Africa, here are a couple poets of those respective countries, as found in The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry edited by J.D. McClatchy.


when you think of your country
you see
plaits and glasses; an old dog full of blood;
and a horse drowned in the river; a mountain on fire;
a space and two people without teeth in bed;
dark figs against sand; a road, poplars,
house, blue, ships of cloud;
reeds; a telephone;
you see

when you think of your country
you see
we must be strong; guts full of craters and flies;
the mountain is a butcher’s shop without walls;
over the thousand hills of Natal
the fists of the warriors like standards;
prisoners lie in the mud: you see
mines bursting with slaves; the rain
spatters high like sparks against the evening;
amongst the reeds the skeleton of the dwarf rots

when you think of your country
it is the end of all thought;
if it’s bright outside you throw the windows open;
you see the stars are arrows in the void;
you hear, as quiet as a rumor, don’t you?
“we are the people. we are black, but we don’t sleep.
we hear in dark how the thieves guzzle in the trees.
we listen to our power they cannon know, we listen
to the heart of our breathing. we hear the sun
shaking in the reeds of the night. we wait until
the devourers rotten and glutted fall from the branches–
a glutton will be known by his fruits–
or we’ll teach the pigs to climb trees.”

- Breyten Breytenbach, South Africa, translated by Ernest van Heerden

Along Galeana Street

Hammers pound there above
pulverized voices
From the top of the afternoon
the builders come straight down

We’re between blue and good evening
here begin vacant lots
A pale puddle suddenly blazes
the shade of the hummingbird ignites it

Reaching the first houses
the summer oxidizes
Someone has closed the door someone
speaks with his shadow

It darkens There’s no one in the street now
not even this dog
scared to walk through it alone
One’s afraid to close one’s eyes

- Octavio Paz, Mexico, translated by Elizabeth Bishop*

*I am a blog novice. The formatting on the Paz poem is not correct, I've been monkeying around with it for 30 minutes and still can't get it right. Many apologies, so sorry -- Jerry