Monday, June 25, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Seventeen (Sappho)

I was overcome by a wild sort of joy earlier in the week when I realized that if I ever get stranded on an island or out at sea without (God forbid) any books, the Mnemosyne poems could be my constant companions. If I ever get put in solitary confinement, locked in a mental institution, lost in the desert--whatever happens--I have these poems with me now, just as I have my own hands and feet. And I believe they would be just as useful.

My selection this week is a powerful Sappho poem translated by Willis Barnstone. Just for fun, here is a link to grouping of different translations of this poem: See which one you like best. I chose the Barnstone translation because, for me, the compactness of lines and language intensifies the punch of desire.

If you're not familiar with Sappho, she was an ancient Greek poet from the island of Lesbos (630/612 - 570).

As well, if you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne Post to find out what this project is all about.


To me he seems like a god
as he sits facing you and
hears you near as you speak
softly and laugh

in a sweet echo that jolts
the heart in my ribs. For now
as I look at you my voice
is empty and

can say nothing as my tongue
cracks and slender fire quick
under my skin. My eyes are dead
to light, my ears

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Sixteen (Ōshikōchi no Mitsune)

painted by Kanō Tan'yū

This week's posting will again serve a dual purpose. In addition to announcing the new Mnemosyne poem, I'd like to also introduce the form, tanka, so that we may memorize both the poem and the form together. Most people are familiar with haiku, which is based on syllable count, rather than rhyme or other poetic elements. You could say tanka is haiku's less popular cousin. And like haiku, tanka is based on syllable count. In fact, tanka IS haiku, with an added, unrhymed couplet. So, the pattern is this: 5 lines, syllable count 57577. That's it, easy peasy.

What follows below is a beautiful little gem of a tanka by Japanese court poet Ōshikōchi no Mitsune (859-925). This poem was translated by Helen Craig McCullough.

Note: If you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne Post to find out what this project is all about.


     I must pause to gaze
before crossing the river.
              Though they fall like the rain,
       leaves dyed in autumn's colors
     will not make the waters rise.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Fifteen (Rumi)

This week's posting will serve a dual purpose. In addition to announcing the new Mnemosyne poem (embedded in the photo above), I'd like to also announce that I'll be interviewing its translator, Rasoul Shams, for Tiferet Talk, on June 24th, 2012 from 7- 7:30 pm EST. As part of the interview, Rasoul has offered to read poems from his new translation, Rumi: The Art of Loving in both Persian and English. I can't wait!

Because we've already studied Rumi's work at Bareback Alchemy, I'll not re-introduce him now, but if you'd like to know more about Rumi, please see the link to the Rumi Poetry Club below. However, I would still like to introduce Rasoul:

Rasoul first learned of Rumi’s poems in his Persian classes as a young boy growing up in Iran,and now the works of Rumi and other Persian poets have been his spiritual companions for over three decades. Having lived and studied in Iran, India, Japan and the USA, Rasoul's life and education are rooted in a multi-cultural, multi-language matrix.

Rasoul founded the Rumi Poetry Club in 2007 (on the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth). Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the club celebrates the poetry of East and West through its monthly meetings, annual gatherings, website, and publications.

As well, Rasoul has published a number of essays in such magazines as The World and I, Interrelgious Insight, Pure Inspiration, Light of Consciousness, Kyoto Journal, The Himalayan Journal, Mandala, Persian Heritage, Sufi, and the Rumi Review. He is currently working on another anthology of Rumi’s poetry.

In addition to the poems, Rumi: The Art of Loving  contains two fabulous essays, a very helpful list of terms and symbols, and several beautiful stories from Rumi's life. It was a joy to read.

*NOTE*If you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne Post to find out what this project is all about. 

See you in the sea of serenity and purity--

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Fourteen (Wordsworth)

The Thames below Westminster

This week I'll be memorizing "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802" by William Wordsworth. Here we're invited to observe a beautiful, peaceful, blissful moment that, in its description and stillness, has always felt like a painting or photograph to me--hence the Monet, for me the ideal accompaniment. And though Monet's painting portrays a little more activity than Wordsworth's sonnet, it nevertheless shares a tranquil quality and the same lovely subject matter. If you're not familiar with Wordsworth, he was an English poet of the Romantic era and lived from April 1770 – April 1850.

If you're new to the blog, please check out the first Mnemosyne Post to see what this project is all about. And please keep suggesting titles! I always learn the most from the ones I would have never thought to select myself.

Have a great week, everyone!Wishing you many moments like Wordsworth's on Westminster--

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Six Weeks to Yehidah Named Finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards

I'm pleased to announce that in addition to winning The Forward National Literature Award and a Lone Star College System Writing Award, Six Weeks to Yehidah is now also a finalist for the Indie Excellence Awards. You make Mamma proud, little book. As well, huge congratulations to the winners and to the other finalists in all the categories!