‘I had in my only philosophy a faith founded like that of Socrates upon the basis of my conscious ignorance—it is a sort of sublime optimism, and I am very satisfied with my ignorance as my betters are with their knowledge …’ — John Butler Yeats in a letter to his son William Butler Yeats
Your blast calculations were
right on the money, my boy
the armored wall of poetic imagination
collapsed under your hand
But what the hell
happened to your right leg?
The knee is swollen like a pumpkin
in the African grass of your fervid nights.
Why didn’t the ship’s boilers explode
on the high seas
and put an end
to your misery?
An ancient shadow led the exiled Dante
through the hell of his neurotic soul.
Yet you, oh poet, are silent about your escape
and slipped into the brown hide of a bookseller
to sell me your remainder of 2000 sonnets.
You did not die like the laurel-wreathed tribune
under a cloak of daggers.
No, not you, rebellious citizen . . .
There are day poets and night poets. Here is one of each: A. Robert Lee (whose SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES was recently published) and Helmut Maria Soik (whose RIMBAUD UNDER THE STEEL HELMET has been translated from the German by Georg M. Gugelberger and Lydia Perera). I should perhaps mention, in case anyone gets the wrong idea, that I make no value judgment as to the greater or lesser worth of “day” vs. “night.” I had so much fun reading “Suspicious Circumstances” that it felt as good as getting high, no drugs needed. The wit and wisdom of its vignettes—really prose poems laced with laughter—dissect the customs and dispel the dreariness of ordinary life. They are a much-needed provocation, like Baudelaire’s “Paris Spleen” turned inside out.
UPDATED: To get the drift of “Aufzeichnungen über Aussenseiter” by Carl Weissner, I’ve been typing pieces of text into google translate. It’s a helluva time-consuming job, as if re-setting type you understand. Matthias Penzel, who edited the collection and wrote an afterword, tells me I should have better things to do with my time. But it’s more than worth the effort.