6°s, or… Something?

                                                 April 20, 2015

Remember The Secret? Maybe it’s 6°s of separation, or precognition, or something? But…

Go back a couple of Sunday’s to when Yevgeniy Yevtushenko was the Sunday Guest and then I’ll tell you about this past Sunday, yesterday.

When I introduced Yevtushenko I mentioned that I first experienced his poetry through a Saturday Evening Post article in a 1963 edition. When I wrote that my youngest son and I were going to go to a huge outdoor flea market called The Elephant’s Trunk in New Milford the following Sunday. But, the ground  was still too wet so that market, the opening one of the year, was postponed until yesterday. And our trip yesterday resulted in this.

We’d just started down the many rows of vendors and were looking at a young woman’s eclectic collection of tools, antiques, knick-knacks, and a box of magazines… Saturday Evening Post? The sign taped to the box said it contained 1960 editions. What were the odds? I squatted down and began to work through the copies. Half way, flip, flip, flip, flip back… Lift the upper ones. There it was! POST, The Saturday Evening Post August 10 – August 17, 1964 20c.

Banned in Russia:

A Soviet poet’s brilliant story
of his life and fight for freedom
under Stalin and Khrushchev

So maybe I’m making more of this than it just being a strange coincidence that right after I write about a poet who impacted my view of poetry and need to create poetry I’m reunited with the spark that ignited the fire.

Sunday Guests: Ezra Pound

I don’t feel I can adequately introduce Mr. Pound. He and I have only just met. But, I feel that we’ll be getting along splendidly since what he’s said so far, strikes a cord within me.

And The Days Are Not Full Enough

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

In A Station Of The Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.

Excuse me now, I’m going off to have some quiet time and conversation with Mr. Pound. Before I go, let me tell you, don’t let his sour looks deceive you, he’s an intense fellow and intensely interesting. An expat you know, buried in Italy in ’72. Yes a long life from 1885 into and nearly through an entire century. He’ll say something that stops you short, rocks you back in wonder, if you’ll just take a minute to get to know him.

(And a very sincere “Thank you” to David Lanoue, HSA President, for waking me from my nap – surely, I must have been asleep at the switch to have missed the poetry of Ezra Pound up until now.)

Journey begins… Cavafy

I haven’t set upon just the right title for these Sunday posts that look at poets present and past, near and far, familiar and wildly unfamiliar. I suppose we actually started in Japan since I’ve already posted Haiku by Basho and we’ve been to Russia which is where Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote Prologue, last week’s post. But maybe this week is the official opening for other poets on Sunday. And since we’re beginning maybe it’s nice to start with a poet from Greece, where Western civilization (that’s too big a question to debate or even discuss here) began.

Cavafy (Constantine Cavafy) is one of those whose lives were destined to last for a set number of decades, being born on April 29, 1863 in Alexandria Egypt and dying there exactly 70 years later. His published poems only numbered 154 although dozen more were left unpublished or sketched out. Searching for “Cavafy” on the web will produce more information for the curious.

My first experience of Cavafy was in a slim paperback anthology published by Dell under their Laurel Leaf imprint in 1964 and edited by Richard Niebling. (There’s no note on who translated the included works, see my note on Prologue in last Sunday’s post on why this is important.) So I’m using the translation I first read this poem to inaugurate this yet unnamed Sunday feature.


When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a summer dawn to enter
– with what gratitude, what joy –
porst seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.

Ithaka gave you the splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
that already you will have understood what these Ithakas mean.


Cavafy spent some of his early school years in Liverpool, England, where he developed an affection for Shakespeare and English poets. Cavafy, based on his time in England and the fact that Egypt was a British protectorate with an English run bureacracy when he worked as a civil servant in Egypt, was able to compose in English he seems to have always written his poetry in his native Greek. One of his poems inscribed on the wall of a public building in the Netherlands is in Greek. While writing poems of all lengths many of the Cavafy poems I’ve read have all tended to the shorter, almost Tanka or Haiku, style. Cavafy is well worth reading today.

Sunday guests: Yevgeniy Yevtushenko

Yevgeniy Yevtushenko is the poet who inspired and fired my imagination. It wasn’t that I didn’t like poetry, I did and devoured it. All of them came from collections of poetry, and it wasn’t as if I didn’t know poetry didn’t need to rhyme, or that it could swell with emotion. But, the poem Prologue attached itself to me like no other ever has. Funny that I don’t remember exactly where I read it, well I do, I know it was a magazine, one my parents subscribed to, so probably the Saturday Evening Post. They published a volume in 1963 with Yevtushenko on the cover, he also graced the cover of Time the same year, but the Post is most likely where I read it. Here is Prologue (George Reavey, translator):

I’m different,


and idle too;

I have a goal and yet I’m aimless!

I don’t, all of me, fit in; I’m awkward,

shy and rude,

nasty and good-natured.

I love it when sharp edges blur.

Many opposites meet in me:

from west to east,

from envy to delight.

I know you insist on the “compact monolith.”

But it is the opposites that have value!

You need me. I’m heaped as high

as a truck with fresh-mown hay.

I fly through voices, branches, light and warbling,

with butterflies in my eyes, and hay sticking out of cracks.

I greet all that moves! Ardent desire,

and eagerness, triumphant eagerness!

Frontiers are in my way. I am embarrassed

not to know Buenos Aires and New York;

I’d like to walk at will through London streets

and talk with everyone I want, even in broken English.

I’d like to ride through Paris in the morning,

hanging on to the back a bus like a boy.

I want art to be as diverse as myself;

and even if art brings trouble,

and harasses me on every side,

I am already the besieged–besieged by art.

I’ve seen myself in every sort of thing:

I feel close to Yesenin and Walt Whitman,

to Mussorgsky with the whole stage in his embrace,

and Gauguin tracing his virgin line.

I like to skate in winter,

write poems through sleepless nights;

I like to mock an enemy to his face,

and carry a woman across a stream.

I bite into books, and carry firewood;

I can feel depressed, and know vaguely what I seek.

In hottest August I love to crunch

An ice-cool slice of watermelon.

With no thought of death I sing and drink,

fall on the grass with arms outspread’

and if I should die in this wide world,

then I’ll die most happy to have lived.

So what do you think? And does the age at which you read this make a difference?

I never know when I read Prologue now if it is impacting me afresh or is it just calling to memory feelings and emotions, desires and dreams… From all those years ago.

Still love Yevtushenko’s poetry though.

[Yes, I’ll have to write soon about the impact of the translator on a poet’s work. Reavey has translated and written on Yevtushenko extensively and I’ve occasionally read other translations of Prologue and it doesn’t resonant like this version did and does.]