Saturday, August 14, 2010

11. Reading } Brookline Booksmith

With a simple, short-range radio device attached to my throat, I controlled the machine pictured above by reading “Holy Ghost.” It’s a burden lugging the machine with me—it weighs as much as a “portable” 1920 Singer sewing machine—but the effect it has on audiences is dramatic, and by all accounts my reading was very much enjoyed. Joy Crelin reported seeing "a weird kind of light map" (pictured below); Liz T. told me she heard—an undercurrent running beneath my story—the low-frequency sounds of blue whales (usually not audible at all!). In the end I’m glad I brought the machine, but I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to.

John read from Under the Small Lights the chapter “The Straw Bed” (“Tell me a story. Tell me about Maybe.”) and from the chapter “Birdlike.” Both very funny but charged with the drama and pain insecurity so easily makes. Before he read—and you won’t believe me, I’m sure—John poured wine for the audience.

After we read, after John and I signed books, John caught up with some old friends who came and I began to browse the used books. While looking at the spines of medieval romances a gentleman handed me a poem, written on a page torn from a Simon & Schuster hardcover (their logo to the left of the handwritten poem—I never saw the title of the book). It was a found poem made of lines from my story. My favorite line is, “toss holy ghost; crisp theory proposed”—in the story, it’s Chris’s theory—I don’t know if “crisp” is a deliberate change or if he just heard me wrong. My thanks to the anonymous poet.

We went for a meal, then, about nine of us. Melissa Goodrum led a toast to our success and to the success of our books. Thank you.

On my way back to my car—a slow walk with that heavy machine—I thought about the conversation I overheard at the college bookstore about that student of mine who was killed—I thought about the strange condition of “some of her organs” and I worried (needlessly, foolishly) about the condition of my own. A Green Line trolley rattled past me then, the lights off in all the cars. The wind that followed the trolley cooled me. I reminded myself: this was a good night.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

10. Reading } Brookline Booksmith

First, an anecdote: overheard at the college bookstore, two students talking, one of whom I realized was related to that former student of mine who was killed when a motorcycle lost control and careened into her. The relative said, “…what was weird was some of her organs were found partially crystallized. The doctors said she might have been dead before the accident. One of the doctors said, ‘dead on her feet.’ My mom couldn’t take it, she freaked out, she was so angry, I thought she was going to sue them or something.” The other student asked the question I would have asked—at this point I stood hidden behind a bookshelf, listening intently: “What do you mean, crystallized?” The relative said, “Like, encrusted with crystallized blood? I don’t know. I couldn’t ask. My mom was freaking out.”

I debated whether or not I could introduce myself to the relative; by the time I decided I would the two students had gone. I went outside to see if I could spot them, but the parking lot was crowded with freshman (it’s orientation week). I checked on a book order (Richard Rolle’s Fire of Love), and left.


Tonight I’ll join Andrea Henchey, C.S. Carrier, and other Hartford-area poets for our monthly Inescapable Rhythms reading at Real Art Ways. The featured poet is Lisa Olstein. That the reading begins at 7pm is a lie.

Tomorrow I’ll be in Brookline (MA) reading with John Cotter. That reading does start at 7pm, and since I consider myself to be John’s opening act, I’d appreciate it if you were there on time. John will read from Under the Small Lights, his new book (steadily gathering praise). He’s an excellent reader, and he’s been reading all summer so he’s in shape.

This is the last reading I’ll do before Color Plates is published (look for it in mid-September). My publishers have arranged a pre-order setup (which somehow includes autographs), and I’ll have copies of my old (though recently re-promoted) book Worse Than Myself on hand. But tomorrow night I’ll read something with the desperate scent of unpublished all over it.

John says he’ll buy you drinks if you go.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

8. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight } A single line.

line 424:

Þat þe scharp of þe schalk schyndered þe bones [Middle English]

scharp = sharp blade, schalk = man, and schyndered = cleave or burst asunder

So that the sharp blade sheared through, shattering the bones [Brian Stone]

That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones [Marie Boroff]

So that the man’s sharp blade cut through the bones [R.A. Waldron, in a footnote]

So that the sharp blade shattered the man’s bones [A.C. Cawley, in a footnote]

Cut through bones and skin and fair [Burton Raffel]

So that the sharp edge sundered the man’s bones [W.S. Merwin]

The cleanness of the strike cleaved the spinal chord [Simon Armitage]

That man’s sharp stroke shattered the bones [Adam Golaski]

Note the location of the word “man.” Cawley and Merwin apply “man” to the Green Knight. Waldron applies “man” to “sharp blade”—which could be read as the sharp blade of the Green Knight, though at this point in the poem that sharp blade—the axe the Green Knight carried into Arthur’s hall—is in Gawain’s possession, and is Gawain's (won by accepting the Green Knight's challenge), so Waldron might be applying “man” to Gawain.

Gawain is a man. The Green Knight is not. That’s why I chose to apply “man” to Gawain.

I wrote “that man” instead of “the man” for the repeated “a” sound.

In my translation, it isn’t the blade that’s sharp, but Gawain’s stroke. Sharp is precise, but sharp is also smart—it at least seems smart to chop of the Green Knight’s head. Too bad about about the irrational supernatural.

Like Stone, I chose to shatter the bones. Shatter maintains my alliteration and is a more violent verb than sunder, sheared, shivered, cut, or cleave. My “shattered” is more aggressive than Stone’s “shattering.”

Raffel took words from surrounding lines, which is why his line is so different. Armitage’s solution was to alliterate with “c” as well as “s”—a big departure from the Gawain poet’s original line. I like Armitage’s line.

My translation of the first fitt of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is featured in this month’s Open Letter’s Monthly. My thanks to editors John Cotter and Steve Donoghue for their hard work in the service of “Green.”