Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Our 2014 Summer Poetry Issue is Out!

You are never old, fair friends, our readers, as long as summer’s near. If poems appear as naturally as leaves unfurl on trees, then let the leaves of this our summer issue unfurl easily in your hands. If winter is the time for vistas, if from the warmth of your home you can see through the bare sticks of winter trees, then summer is intimate, as leaves fold over and against windows. Some poems like this intimacy, speaking the lassitude of a copse or grove. But, hey, it’s summer! Play ball! Home run! Head for the beach, the lake, the ocean’s curling surf, the sidewalk bistro, the ice cream parlour, the lettuce-crisp air conditioning of the Cineplex. That’s where some of these poems have gone. It’s the summer poetry issue!

We celebrate this summer with two special sections dedicated to the magnificent poets Travis Lane and Rae Armantrout. Travis is close to our heart; she has given her head and hands to The Fiddlehead for so many years now. She lives right here in Fredericton and drops in to say hello, to pick up books for review, never afraid to encourage or prune as she sees fit. She has lent her gorgeous poems to us in many issues. If you have overlooked Travis Lane, here is the opportunity to peruse her work and marvel, in this selection so carefully tended and introduced by Shane Neilson.

One day, a student came into my office and said, “my favorite poet is Rae Armantrout.” And it seemed perfect. I recalled a winter at Arizona State reading her poetry assiduously, amazed by her sly and spooky juxtapositions and resonances. I recruited Rebecca Salazar, and we spent afternoons in a café talking, thinking aloud, laughing, debating, and puzzling over how to select what seemed to us to be the too few poems that would represent Rae Armantrout. Rae has given us new poems, and Rebecca and I have selected writing from across her career to introduce Rae’s poetry to Canadian readers unfamiliar with her, and to present the dynamic range of her melodies to those who already love her work.

The purpose of these retrospectives has been to place the best of international authors in the context of Canadian poetry, though this year for the first time we present Travis Lane, who came from the U. S. to become one of our most treasured Canadian poets. But it wouldn’t be The Fiddlehead if we didn’t present these poets together with some of the finest new poets, poets who have yet to publish a book or have just published their first or second. Pay close attention to the inventiveness and surprise of Richard Kelly Kemick, Jenny Haysom, Cassidy McFadzean, Nyla Matuk, Kayla Czaga, Michael Pacey, Shoshanna Wingate, Bren Simmers, and Steve Tomasko.

We are in a poetry renaissance in Canada at the moment, recorded in the explosion of poetry in so many directions at once, scattering its exquisite debris all over the place. The Fiddlehead summer issue cannot sort out all of the pieces, but an impression of the different trajectories can be found in the work of Sina Queyras, Patricia Young, matt robinson, Miranda Pearson, Jan Conn, Jan Zwicky, Stephanie Bolster, Anne Compton, Robyn Sarah, A.F. Moritz, Patrick Warner, and Shane Neilson.

You never grow old, friends in poetry. I know it is but summer poetry, yet it will remain in the full four seasons of your heart.

Ross Leckie

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day on Salamis’ Seacoasts: Eric Miller Reviews Emery George's translation of Frederich Hölderlin's Selected Poems

Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected Poems, introduced, edited and translated by Emery George. Princeton: Kylix, 2011. 963 pages. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Eric Miller

1. Nobility

What is “nobility”? In a society, such as ours, that makes a fretful, often duplicitous, yet admirable pretence to democratic practice, the word may seem insistently, even discouragingly, to flaunt a feudal livery, contaminating all the situations into which we import it with the ghost of a titular presumption over the rest of society: an intractable case of most ancient bloodlines. But the origins of the word “noble” offer a means by which to parry, even to disarm, such narrow atavism. “Noble,” like “nobility,” derives from the same root as “gnosis”—“knowing”. When therefore we call a work of literature “noble,” we may address kinds of knowledge. We may designate not what literature knows, but how it knows: or—better—the specific knowledge that literature, only this literature, can both comprise and produce. Then much knowledge is not of some thing, some circumstance, or some fact. Literary knowledge often concentrates or, rather, dilates—as birdsong, that world-building music, also does—into a case of authoritative tone. Can literary tone be properly “noble”? Must nobility be banality, “fine ideas,” inelastic adherence to a stately elevation? I think not: the work of the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) makes me think not. It is true that to invoke knowledge or “gnosis,” as I do above, already reinstates, in some measure, it must be conceded, the idea of an elect: an elect of knowers. Election is choosing. What could we choose to know? These questions, as they stand, are too broad: and, to modify or retract my earlier assertion, do require the focus of an instance, a thing, a circumstance, a fact. Herodotus and Plutarch provide coordinates for a theory of knowledge, as ironic as it is defiant. Hölderlin supplements that theory with all the resources of his time and place.

2. Our climate of consensus

Fortuitously, a friend of mine, Iain Higgins, wrote me recently that he was translating Hölderlin’s “Archipelago,” an elegy from 1800; that he was enjoying doing so; and that the poem would certainly not fly in our climate of consensus. The poem, if not the poet, too plainly venerates ancient Greece; the law of the father is not just assumed, but reinforced, with important reservations (the Greeks in their actions and their myths are not as unanimous in their conception of paternalism as the culture of their Persian foes, Darius and Xerxes). What we have learned to call “orientalism” compromises the fabric of the 296-line elegy—if by “orientalism” we mean to denote the depreciation of the invader Xerxes, whose horde (bridging the Hellespont with ships lashed together) fought to break and to occupy a contrastingly heroified, if disunited, Greek heartland.

Hölderlin’s partisan poem is divisible into several movements, like a piece of music. It opens with an apostrophe of Poseidon, the sea-god apposite to the sea-fight that history calls “Salamis” and dates to 480 B.C. (lines 1-61). The tutelary deity of Athens is explicably assumed to be Athena, but Themistocles, the statesman and strategist instrumental to the Greek victory at Salamis, in order to develop support for the shrewd high value he placed on nautical strength, instigated a theological campaign to magnify evidences of Poseidon’s interest in the city-state. Following Hölderlin’s address to Poseidon comes a lament for Athens as it was before the Persian invasion, with a cameo of Themistocles himself (61-85). From verses 86-103, Hölderlin describes the antagonist Xerxes’s arsenal and meditated plans of attack, with the corresponding despair of the Athenians, their city already despoiled. Battle in the straits by Salamis is joined and the fluctuating fortunes of the day are delineated, between lines 104 and 124. Xerxes’s disconcertment at the defeat of his great fleet occupies lines 125-135; the desolation of Athens regardless of the triumph, lines 136-160; the rebuilding of that city 161-178; its cultural acme 179-199; a melancholic allocation of all this to the long-ago past (200-256); at last the testimony of the poet’s persona in the first person singular brings Salamis and a revivifiable Athens into his present—into our present, a present substantiated (for example) by Iain Higgins’s translation. The poem ends with a fresh apostrophe of the immortal Poseidon (288-296).